Oregon's governor says legislation is important for the economy
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- Gov. John Kitzhaber said he is confident lawmakers will pass legislation this year that allows illegal immigrants an opportunity to obtain driving privileges in Oregon.
"I think this is extraordinarily important," Kitzhaber said, "not only for these individuals, but for significant segments of our economy, particularly here in the (Willamette) Valley and in Southern Oregon.
"I am confident that something to address that issue will pass the Legislature, and I will lend it my full support," Kitzhaber said. "The nature of the bill is still in question, but it will be introduced."
Under current law, to qualify for an Oregon driver's license, an applicant must show proof of legal presence in the state. The law has resulted in uninsured, unlicensed motorists on the state's highways, according to Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries.
"For us, the largest sector in agriculture, having people to be able to get to work is a priority," Stone said. "The nursery and greenhouse industry has put this as a top priority.
"We will work with this governor, with any legislator who wants to try to help us pass this bill, to get it done," Stone said.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates 160,000 illegal immigrants live in Oregon.
At the press conference, Kitzhaber and a bipartisan group of lawmakers announced they have introduced a bill to qualify certain illegal immigrants for in-state tuition to the state's colleges and universities.
House Bill 2787 would expand access to higher education for eligible students and help create a well-trained workforce for Oregon employers, said Rep. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, one of four sponsors of the bill.
With the bill, the students have a shot at higher education, he said. Without it, they have almost none.
"By erecting barriers to the educational aspirations of these young people, not only are we turning our backs on them," Kitzhaber said, "but we are walking away from tens of thousands of dollars that we have already invested in their education in our K-through-12 system.
"Tuition equity allows us to capitalize on that investment," Kitzhaber said. "Tuition equity allows us to build Oregon's economy by drawing on the strengths and considerable talents of every young person in this state."
Kitzhaber called the proposal "long overdue."
"Together we can create equity and opportunity for a whole group of young Oregonians today, and make our state stronger tomorrow," Kitzhaber said.