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Lawsuit targets driver cards law

PORTLAND — An Oregon nonprofit filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to reinstate a state law that would have allowed people to get driver's cards if they can't prove they are in the U.S. legally.

The law was approved by the Legislature in 2013 then overturned by voters the following year in a referendum.

In its lawsuit, the Oregon Law Center says it's illegal for Oregon to enforce Measure 88 because it was motivated by a desire to regulate immigration laws and that's the job of the federal government.

The group says the measure took driving privileges away from immigrants who lack legal status for reasons that have "no rational relationship to traffic safety or any other state interest that is legitimate."

The lawsuit also says the measure was driven by animosity and the desire to punish or to avoid rewarding a politically unpopular minority, and targets a group of people for unequal treatment based on their Mexican and Central American national origin.

As a result, it is discriminatory and violates the U.S Constitution, the suit says.

The lawsuit does not question the general validity of Oregon's citizen initiative process.

Defendants targeted in the lawsuit include Gov. Kate Brown, the director the state Department of Transportation, several Transportation Commission members, and the administrator of the Oregon DMV.

State Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum's spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson said the Oregon Department of Justice will represent the defendants. Edmunson declined to comment on the pending litigation.

About 120,000 immigrants in Oregon lack legal status, according to the Pew Research Center. They make up about 3 percent of the state's total population.

More than 80 percent have lived in the country for more than five years and many have U.S. citizen children.

The complaint was filed in the name of five anonymous immigrants who would have qualified for the driver's cards and two organizations that serve Latinos and are affected by their inability to drive.           The suit seeks to be certified as a class action that includes all residents who have lived in the state for more than one year and are denied driving privileges solely because they are unable to prove legal presence.

The state estimated that, were it not for the passage of Measure 88, it would have issued about 84,000 driver's cards in the first year after the law took effect. Many would have been issued to immigrants who were long time residents and whose driver's licenses had expired, according to a state analysis.

In the past, Oregon allowed state residents to get a driver's license regardless of legal status. But in 2008, to make licenses compliant with the federal REAL ID Act, legislators enacted a law that required Oregonians to show proof of legal presence in the U.S. to obtain a license.

The state reversed course in 2013, joining seven other states in granting driving privileges to immigrants lacking legal status. The cards could not be used to vote, get benefits or buy firearms.

Oregon voters, by a margin of 66 percent to 34 percent cancelled that law before it went into effect.

Proponents of Measure 88 — mostly represented by the group Oregonians for Immigration Reform — said granting the driver cards would lead to more immigrants without legal status moving to Oregon, taking Oregonians' jobs and pushing up crime rates.

Andrea Miller, director of the Oregon immigrant-rights group Causa which pushed for the driver card law, said Measure 88's invalidation of the law has led to a crisis in the Latino community.

"Mothers and fathers are struggling to take their kids to school, workers in the field are struggling to get to work, and children who come of age have to drive their family around to take care of basic needs," Miller said.