Our VoiceImmigration

Oregon Driver’s License Vote Poses Threat to Victories Nationwide

Lauren Taylor • Oct 30, 2013

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber at signing of bill that would grant four-year driver cards to residents who cannot prove citizenship status.

This past spring, the Oregon legislature approved “driver’s cards” for state residents unable to prove their citizenship, and joined seven other states in expanding undocumented immigrants’ access to driver’s licenses this year. The law was scheduled to go into effect on January 1st of 2014, but well-funded opponents of the bill gathered signatures to force the law to a popular vote. On Friday, Oct 18, Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown announced that 58,291 signatures had been certified, barely surpassing the minimum 58,142 to send the bill to referendum in November 2014.

The campaign to block driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in Oregon could serve as a template for other anti-immigrant groups across the country, and consequently represents both a local and national threat. The Oregon campaign was well connected to national anti-immigrant groups. Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR), the state contact group for FAIR, took a lead role in directing and financing the ballot initiative. Not only that, but another FAIR contact, Fred Elbel of Colorado, received over $2200 to help with the campaign’s website and advertising materials.

FAIR is the flagship organization of the Tanton Network, a powerful constellation of anti-immigrant organizations directly founded by or with close ties to white nationalist John Tanton. FAIR does the state level organizing for the network, offering trainings and support to local and regional groups with nativist sympathies. With the help of  the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the legislative arm of the Network, pushes for policies that make life harder for immigrants, and obstruct policies that integrate immigrants into society. There’s a good chance that the Oregon effort will become part of FAIR’s playbook.

Along with the threats posed, there are also opportunities for coalitional organizing around the referendum. The 2014 Oregon ballot will likely have a measure to repeal the state’s constitutional ban on same sex marriage. Oregon United for Marriage is ahead of schedule to gather the needed 116,000 signatures by July to put the measure on the 2014 ballot. Other possible ballot measures include right to work laws, and a law to prohibit public funding of abortions.  The referendum process could bring together different groups and constituencies, much like the 2012 elections in Maryland.

In Maryland, Republicans initiated a referendum to overturn in-state tuition for undocumented students. The Maryland ballot also included a referendum on same sex marriage and re-districting. Republicans lost all three referendum votes.

In Oregon, the combination of ballot initiatives is an opportunity for collaborative organizing around just and inclusive policies. It’s also a chance to defeat the bigotry behind the effort to overturn the driver’s license law.

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