SALEM — Medford state representative Sal Esquivel and a fellow GOP legislator want voters to decide whether to overturn a new law that allows illegal immigrants in Oregon to obtain driver's licenses.
Esquivel, Rep. Kim Thatcher of Keizer and Portland activist Richard LaMountain with the group Oregonians for Immigration Reform are sponsors of a referendum submitted to the Secretary of State's Office Wednesday.
Referendum supporters will have to work quickly if they want to make the November 2014 ballot. They'll have to gather more than 58,000 valid signatures from registered voters within 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.
The law is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, but it would be put on hold until after the election if referendum proponents successfully force a vote.
Critics say the law rewards illegal actions and might encourage more people without legal documents to come to Oregon.
"If someone is willing to disregard immigration laws, what other laws are they willing to disregard?" Thatcher said last month.
Esquivel, the son of immigrants, questioned the value of the law in a May 1 story in the Mail Tribune.
"They broke the law getting in the country, broke the law working, broke the law driving and broke the law by being uninsured," Esquivel said. "... I don't see where the card makes them buy insurance. Let's face the facts. They're not going to buy it."
Supporters, however, say it would make Oregon's roads safer by reducing the number of unlicensed and uninsured drivers.
"(The referendum) is trying to make this about immigration when this is a public safety issue about Oregon's roads," said Jeff Stone, director of Oregon Association of Nurseries and an architect of the law.
Stone said he's disappointed by the referendum, especially because the legislation passed with bipartisan support.
Gov. John Kitzhaber signed the bill last week before a throng of cheering supporters in front of the Capitol.
The law would allow tens of thousands of immigrants living in Oregon without legal permission to get driver's licenses good for four years, half as long as a standard Oregon license. Immigrants and others who don't have documents proving they are in the country lawfully, including elderly and homeless people, could apply for the driver's licenses if they've lived in Oregon for at least a year and meet other requirements.
The restricted driver's licenses could not be used to vote, board a plane or buy a firearm. The licenses would be marked "Driver's Card" to distinguish them from a standard Oregon license.