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New Oregon Driver Card Brings 'Peace Of Mind' To Undocumented

Oregon lawmakers passed a bill during the 2013 Legislative Session that could potentially affect thousands of drivers.

Rafael was born in Mexico. His parents brought him into the United States when he was a year old. He does not have a Social Security number, and he’s not a U.S. citizen. But he's been driving since high school.

Rafael was born in Mexico. His parents brought him into the United States when he was a year old. He does not have a Social Security number, and he’s not a U.S. citizen. But he’s been driving since high school.

It allows the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a driver card to people who cannot provide proof of legal presence in the United States.

Rafael pulls into his driveway in Klamath Falls after finishing a work shift. He’s been working full time for about four years, since he started high school.

Rafael was born in Mexico. His parents brought him into the United States when he was a year old. He does not have a Social Security number, and he’s not a U.S. citizen.

We’ve agreed to use only his first name, because he doesn’t want to compromise his citizenship application.

Rafael has never applied for a driver’s license.

“During high school I did drive by myself. And I would lie to my friends, saying, ‘Oh, I’ve finally got my driver’s license.’ But I would never, never bring it up. It’s like if I’m going to drive — I’m going to drive,” Rafael says.

In 2007, Oregon started to require a valid Social Security number to get a driver’s license. That meant many drivers, like Rafael, couldn’t get a license. But Rafael drives anyway. He depends on driving to get around town and go to work. He says he drives a vehicle that’s insured.

The Oregon DMV expects thousands will apply for the new Driver Card which will look different from a license.

The Oregon DMV expects thousands will apply for the new Driver Card which will look different from a license.

Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/OPB

“The reason I still drive is ‘cause my parents, they always work. My mom always works; she never has time to take me to where I need to go, like work, soccer practice, or something, you know. And my dad; we rarely, never, see my dad ‘cause he’s always working. He gets out of one job and goes to another.”

So, Rafael drives his younger siblings around. He drives them to school, the clinic, and soccer practice.

The change to state law will allow immigrants who don’t have social security numbers to apply for a driver card. It will grant them driving privileges in Oregon, starting next year. 

“We’re expecting tens of thousands, but exactly how many tens of thousands, we don’t know. To put that into perspective, there are about 3.1 million licensed drivers currently in Oregon,” said David House with the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles.

According to House, all the requirements for the driver card are the same as those for a license. The only difference is that those applying for the card won’t need proof of lawful presence in the United States. People who cannot provide a valid Social Security number will have to sign an affidavit stating they have not been issued one.

Francisco is a bartender, also in Klamath Falls. He restocks his area before leaving to go home. Francisco — we’ve also agreed not to use his full name — is an undocumented worker.

He obtained a driver’s license before the state required a Social Security number to get one. According to the state, he has a clean driving record in Oregon. But his license expired last month. Since then, Francisco has been driving without a license because he doesn’t meet all of the requirements to renew it.

“Para serte sincero, si me pongo muy nervioso cada vez que se me pone un policia atras o mire un policia, este, aunque apesar de tener tanto tiempo de manejando. Este me agarran los nervios, y que ‘Si me va parar me va parar’.”

(“To be honest, I do get very nervous every time the police get behind me or I see the police, even though I’ve been driving for a long time. My nerves get ahold of me and I’m like ‘Yes, they’re going to stop me. They’re going to stop me’.”)

Francisco has been driving in Oregon for about eighteen years. In the past, under the old rules, he was able to renew his license. Francisco tells me how his license helped him.

“Sirve para conducir, para moverte, poder sacar la familia. Ir hacer tus compras tranquillo sin necesidad de tener todo el tiempo miedo de la policia.”

(“It helped to be able to drive, to move and be able to take my family places. I could go shop peacefully without needing to fear the police all the time.”)

Francisco hopes he’ll be able to get the new driver card, to improve his situation.

Chuck Thomsen is a Republican state senator from Hood River.  He sponsored the driver card bill.  He says it will benefit all Oregonians.

“Safety for sure because, I’m not going to say everyone’s going to have insurance, but I think that number will increase,” Thomsen says.

However, there are opponents who plan to challenge the new law.

Oregonians For Immigration Reform is gathering signatures for a 2014 referendum. If supporters gather enough signatures to get on the ballot, they could delay the state’s plans to issue driver cards.

Kim Thatcher is a Republican state legislator from Keizer.  She opposed the driver card measure.

“There’s the double standard of if you’re needing to drive to work, why are we enabling you to drive to a job that you’re not supposed to have if you’re here illegally?” Thatcher says.

However, the DMV is still preparing for an influx of applicants who may apply for a driver card.

It will look a little different from a driver’s license according to the DMV’s David House. “It’ll essentially, will only have two differences from the regular driver license: instead of, if you have your driver license available and you look at it, under Oregon it has a band, a colored band that says driver license. For the driver license it’s blue and says driver license in white. So, with the driver card will have that in a different color and it’ll say driver card instead of driver license.”

The driver card will cost about $70 and will expire every four years. A regular license costs about $60 and expires every eight years.

Francisco says he’ll apply for the new card as soon as he can.

“Pues me da muchas esperanza y me da mucho gusto que hagan hecho esto porque, en realidad es algo que se ocupa para todos que estamos en esta situacion. Y mas que nada una tranquilidad.”

(“It gives me hope and happiness that they did this. In reality, it’s something that is needed by all of us who are in these circumstances, and more than anything, a peace of mind.”)

The Oregon DMV is making changes at many of its offices throughout the state to prepare for the new applicants. The state is currently scheduled to start issuing the cards in January. 

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