Should illegal immigrants have the right to drive in Oregon? Soon, you may get the chance to vote on that question.
Recently, a group of Oregonians operating as "Protect Oregon Driver Licenses" received authorization from the secretary of state to begin collecting signatures for a referendum on Senate Bill 833, the newly passed legislation granting "driver cards" to illegal immigrants. To put a measure on Oregon's November 2014 ballot that will allow voters to approve or reject the bill, the group must collect 58,142 signatures within 90 days of the end of the Legislature's 2013 session, which will be in late September.
I am one of the referendum's chief sponsors. I also serve in the Oregon Legislature. Why do I seek to refer to voters a bill that most of my colleagues approved?
First, SB 833 is bad public policy. By rewarding the crime of illegal entry, illegal-immigrant driver cards would undermine the rule of law generally and federal immigration law specifically. They would better enable illegal immigrants to take and keep jobs from Oregonians. And they would attract more illegal immigrants to our state. As the son of immigrants who came to America the right way, it is critically important to me that people here illegally do not receive the same benefits as immigrants who follow our laws.
Second, SB 833 was rammed through the Legislature so quickly that most Oregonians barely got the chance to scrutinize it and weigh in with their opinions.
Consider the timeline. On April 2, SB 833 was introduced. At month's end, it was passed by the Senate and House; on May 1, it was signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber.
And in between? On April 11, there was a perfunctory two-hour public hearing on the bill at which rank-and-file Oregonians were given two minutes apiece to present their views.
Contrast this with the bill's preparation. Beginning two years ago, a work group convened by the governor and aided by his tax-paid staff met frequently to craft the bill. The group was weighted heavily toward the business interests and ethnic lobbies that benefit financially and politically from illegal immigrants' presence. Its meetings were closed, and it sought no input from rank-and-file citizens.
Was all this an exercise in government of, by and for the people? No. It was, rather, a textbook example of "insider" government — of a process engineered by legislative and special-interest heavyweights to deter meaningful public involvement and assure a swift, predetermined outcome. It was a highly exclusive process — and, as such, an abdication of lawmakers' representative and deliberative responsibilities.
Grassroots Oregonians care deeply about their state's future. Occupied by job and family responsibilities, however, most don't have the time to track — or to respond quickly enough to influence — swiftly moving developments in the Legislature. And they certainly don't have the wherewithal to combat the power and pull of well-heeled interests with full-time Salem lobbyists.
On a momentous issue like illegal-immigrant driver cards, Oregonians deserved better than a fast-tracked bill, a cattle-call public hearing, and a cursory four-week window of engagement. Our referendum aims to do what the governor's invitation-only work group and our hastily acting lawmakers did not: provide for a sustained and informative public debate, and include rank-and-file Oregonians directly in the decision-making process.
To help qualify our referendum for the ballot, go to www.ProtectOregonDL.org. Print, sign, and return a single-signature petition today. Your action can help overturn a harmful new law — and strengthen representative government in Oregon.
Sal Esquivel represents Medford in the Oregon House of Representatives.