SALEM — Oregon's Legislature is grappling with a bill allowing DACA recipients — people brought into America illegally when they were children — to renew "limited term" drivers' licenses for two years while President Donald Trump and Congress figure out an immigration policy.
The House measure at first addressed only the costs of Oregonians switching drivers' licenses to federally-recognized ones. It was passed unanimously in the House, but has attracted flak after it went over to the Senate and a committee inserted an amendment.
That amendment allows DACA recipients to apply for the cards without needing "to provide proof of legal presence in the United States" if the state transportation department previously issued them a drivers' license, permit or ID card, if the applicant has an employment authorization document, and if that document expired on or after Aug. 1, 2014.
The transportation department "may not verify the documents described," the amended bill says.
A Republican legislator who sponsored the bill was so perturbed by the proposed amendment that he walked over to the Senate Committee on Business and Transportation that was considering it on Monday. He announced he would remove his name from the legislation if the committee approved it.
"My constituents don't expect me to be a part of what could happen today," Rep. Carl Wilson, who is from the woodsy town of Grants Pass, said after he got into the witness chair.
Cynthia Kendoll, president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, reminded the committee that in 2014, Oregonians rejected a ballot measure by a 66 percent to 44 percent vote that would have provided Oregon residents with a "driver card" without requiring proof of legal residence in the United States.
"This 11th hour amendment, yet another attempt to license people here illegally, was put forth in the waning days of the short session and is a backdoor attempt to undermine the will of the people," Kendoll said in a letter to the committee.
Committee chairman Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, said the amendment applies to only those who currently legally have drivers licenses.
The committee then approved the amendment, sending it to the floor of the Senate for a vote on Thursday, where it was the focus of sharp debate. One senator said the provision barring the transportation department, which oversees the motor vehicle division that issues licenses, from verifying documents would open the door to fraud and lying.
But Sen. Rod Monroe, a Democrat from Portland, said House Bill 4111 helps people who have been in Oregon since they were children.
Sen. James Manning, D-Eugene, said some of them are protecting the country by serving in the military.
The bill is supported by Causa, an immigrants' rights group in Oregon, by the Oregon Farm Bureau and by the Oregon Association of Nurseries — agricultural industries that are dependent on immigrant labor, and on their ability to get to and from work.
The Senate approved the amended bill 20-8 vote Thursday. That sent it back to the House whose members would decide whether or not to accept the change.
The short legislative session might end as early as this weekend, adding pressure for lawmakers to deal with the issue one way or another. It was still pending when the House adjourned Friday.
If passed, the measure goes to Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who has made protecting immigrants, including those in the state illegally, a priority. She has not publicly stated a position on it.