PORTLAND — Oregonians are headed for a statewide vote on a new law that allows immigrants who can’t show they’re in the United States legally to obtain driver’s licenses.
Secretary of State Kate Brown’s office said Friday that opponents of the law submitted nearly 71,000 signatures, and the Elections Division has determined that 58,291 were valid.
That’s enough to put a referendum before voters in November 2014. And as a result, the law won’t take effect as scheduled Jan. 1.
The law would grant four-year restricted licenses that can be used to drive but not to vote, board a plane, get government benefits or buy a firearm. The licenses would be marked “Driver’s Card” to distinguish them from a standard Oregon license.
Earlier this year, the Legislature approved the bill with bipartisan support, and Gov. John Kitzhaber signed it before a throng of cheering supporters.
The law was aimed mainly at the tens of thousands of immigrants living in Oregon who lack legal status. But others also could apply, including some elderly, homeless people and veterans who lack the proper documents to get a regular license. All applicants must pass a driver’s test and provide proof of Oregon residency.
Referendum sponsors — Rep. Kim Thatcher of Keizer, Rep. Sal Esquivel of Medford, and Salem-based anti-immigrant group Oregonians for Immigration Reform — say the law rewards illegal actions and might encourage more people without legal documents to come to Oregon.
“I think this is just one way in which the state is sanctioning or enabling the breaking of federal law,” Thatcher said.
But supporters, including Latino groups, business leaders and law enforcement, say the law would reduce the number of unlicensed and uninsured drivers in the state. They vow to mount a campaign to fight the referendum.
“It’s a public safety issue,” said Ron Louie, retired Hillsboro chief of police and spokesman for the coalition supporting the law. “This law will reduce accidents, make our roads safer, and protect everyone using our roads from preventable injury or financial losses.”
Thirteen states, including Oregon, now have laws that allow immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, to obtain a driver’s license or driving privilege card, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Official signature verification results will be announced Nov. 5.