L0ast week was a big week for adding a little more order to the roads, for increasing the chances that thousands of people driving on a daily basis might know the rules, and even have insurance. It’s always nice to think the guy steering the truck next to you – or right at you – is working off the same driver’s manual.
It didn’t happen here, of course. Last November, Oregon voters rejected, overwhelmingly, a new law passed by the legislature to let undocumented immigrants get driver’s licenses, if they passed the same tests and requirements everybody else has to meet. Overruling the law didn’t take anybody out of the driver’s seat, and certainly not out of the country or the state, but apparently it made some folks feel better.
The change happened in California, which has been having this argument for a long time, and where last Friday as many as 1.4 million drivers got the opportunity to become legal. On the first business day when the law went into effect, immigrants lined up even before DMV offices opened. Nobody knows how many will also get insurance, but The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday that insurance companies across the state had added staff to deal with an expected surge in applications.
For most of the twentieth century, Californians only had to show that they lived in the state to apply for a driver’s license, vital in a place where walking is considered a suspicious activity. Then in 1993, as part of the anti-immigrant surge that ultimately rebounded disastrously against the state Republican Party, proof of citizenship was required for a license.
People did not leave the roads, but some observers did notice a difference. “For 60 years, California had the safest highways in the country,” Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo told the Times last week. “Then we started playing immigration politics with highway safety, and our highways got a lot less safe.”
The rule was reversed in 2003, and then put back in place under the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who may have been worried about undocumented terminator immigrants from the future driving on California freeways.
Now, with AB60 signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, California has joined 10 other states (including Washington state) and the District of Columbia in allowing undocumented immigrants to qualify for driver’s licenses. The change stirred considerable support: “The California Police Chiefs Association supported AB60,” said Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyers, “because we knew that it would allow for more licensed drivers on our roadway and we want to make sure the people we share our roadways with understand the driving rules of California and this legislation will allow for that.”
That’s not happening, of course, in Oregon, where the 66 percent No vote on Measure 88 – it passed only in Multnomah County – pretty much takes the idea off the table for the immediate future. “With the threat of international terrorism, the spread of Ebola and other third-world diseases,” warned Oregonians for Immigration Reform, “it’s vital to take all possible precautions in the control of immigration.”
Because Ebola is a greater health threat in Oregon than a guy in a pickup not sure when he can make a left.
Now that Measure 88 has been defeated, there’s no sign that we’ll be going anywhere on the undocumented immigrant issue. The measure was supported by agricultural groups, especially the nurserymen, who have undocumented employees who are driving. Nobody thinks they’re now going to stop.
Nobody thinks, either, that we’re going to resolve the issue with a magic bus that carries more than 160,000 undocumented Oregonians, including those who have been here for years and those who have children who are citizens, out of the country. The feds, under any administration, have never shown no intention of deporting the country’s 11,000,000 undocumented immigrants, and don’t have the resources to do it anyway.
Republicans in Congress will now seek to block funding for President Obama’s plan to ban deportation of 5,000,000 undocumented immigrants, but it’s not as if they have any other plan. In fact, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio cheerfully told The New York Times Sunday that it was a mistake to think Republicans had to do anything on the issue.
Now, California has joined Washington and eight other states in concluding that if you have hundreds of thousands of people in your state who aren’t going anywhere, you need to think about fitting them in.
Oregon has voted to pretend they’re not here.
Even if they’re driving a truck in our direction.
NOTE: This column appeared in Then Oregonian, 1/7/15.