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Immigrants Sue Oregon for Driver Cards

EUGENE, Ore. (CN) - An Oregon ballot measure that overturned a law allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver cards is unconstitutional, and the law should be reinstated, nonprofits claim in a federal class action.

Five Mexican immigrants and the groups Familias en Accion and Los Ninos Cuentan sued Gov. Kate Brown and the members of the Oregon Department of Transportation Commission on Wednesday, challenging Measure 88, from the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot.

Measure 88 overturned Oregon Senate Bill 833, which the Legislature approved in May 2013. It allowed the Department of Transportation to issue driver cards to Oregon residents who passed driving tests, whether they had proof of legal residence or not.

Sixty-six percent of voters rejected SB 833 through Measure 88.

Driver cards differed from driver licenses. They required residency in Oregon for more than one year, were valid for only four years - half the time of a driver license - and were marked "driver card," instead of "driver license" or "driver permit."

The plaintiffs say Measure 88 violated due process and equal protection guarantees, by targeting Mexicans and Central Americans - in addition to being racist and purposely insulting.

"A desire to punish, or to avoid 'rewarding,' a politically unpopular minority, such as the plaintiff class, by taking away driving privileges from members of that minority is not a legitimate state interest," the complaint states.

It quotes extensively from comments included in the Official 2014 General Election Voter's Pamphlet. "(F)or example, one Chief Petitioner wrote: 'Driving is a privilege, and so is citizenship. ... To allow people who are here illegally to have the privilege of driving is insulting to all citizens.'"

The voter pamphlet used the phrase "illegal immigrant" or a variation of it 40 times, and included statements such as "driver cards would better enable immigrants to take jobs from Oregonians," and "that driver cards would 'cause a surge of illegal immigration to Oregon' and 'likely increase criminal behavior' such as '(c)artel operations, human trafficking and the flow of narcotics through Oregon,'" according to the complaint.

It adds: "Measure 88 also was motivated by racial animus. Measure 88 primarily affects persons from Mexico and Central America, and bears more heavily on those persons than on individuals of any other race or nationality. Opposition statements in the Official 2014 General Election Voter's Pamphlet denounced the 'Mexican' consular ID as a possible form of identification, the possibility of increased activity by 'Mexican' drug cartels, and the 'flood' and 'surge' of 'Central American minors to our southern border.' Opposition statements did not single out, or even mention, immigrants of any other race or nationality."

The voter pamphlet also compared immigrants to the terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The plaintiffs say that three-fourths of the 120,000 undocumented people in Oregon are from Mexico, and many thousands more from Central America.

The five individual plaintiffs, identified by their initials, all are employed, and all need to drive to work. All have lived in Oregon for at least 15 years.

They claim that Measure 88 is an unconstitutional state attempt to regulate immigration, and "is not supported by considerations of traffic safety or any other state interest."

They seek class certification, declaratory judgment, and an injunction.

They are represented by Stephen Walters with the Oregon Law Center in Portland, who was unavailable for comment after hours Wednesday.

The governor's office did not return to a phone call requesting comment.

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