Oregon Measure 88 on the November ballot would grant a driving card to people meeting certain standards but who are unable to prove legal residency in the United States.

We can appreciate the arguments supporters make for the measure, and don’t find them to be completely without merit. However, we can’t get past a strong feeling that it would be a mistake.

Not all that long ago, legal residents and illegal immigrants were able to qualify for Oregon licenses by meeting less stringent standards to prove their identity.

In the wake of 9/11, Oregon joined many states that bolstered the security of driver’s licenses and other state identification cards that could be used to board airplanes and to conduct other business that requires positive identification. Drivers applying for a license must produce proof of legal residency in the United States — a passport, a green card or a birth certificate.

As the licenses issued under the more lax requirements began to expire, immigrant advocates started pushing for an alternative to provide legal driving privileges. Last year the Legislature passed a law creating the driver’s card, but a grassroots petition drive forced the issue onto the ballot.

Ag interests, labor unions, business groups and immigration advocates supported the law, and support passage of the ballot initiative.

Supporters say issuing the cards will make Oregon roads safer. Card holders have to pass the same tests as licensed drivers. They say card holders would be more likely to obtain insurance.

More importantly, the cards would allow illegal immigrants to legally drive to their jobs — jobs that they cannot legally hold.

Nurserymen, fruit producers and food processors depend on immigrant labor. It’s generally accepted that 70 to 80 percent of that workforce is in the country illegally, and who can’t get an Oregon driver’s license.

While it’s against federal law to hire workers who are not legal residents, workers who are hired present documents farm employers assume are legitimate. All of this is on a wink and nod because there is no requirement agriculture employers participate in the federal E-Verify program that would weed out applicants with phony or appropriated documents.

The driver’s card would make this charade harder to pull off. Anyone with legitimate documentation to work would, by definition, have legitimate documentation to get an Oregon driver’s license.

Supporters are quick to point out that immigration is the purview of the federal government. The state’s interest is only in ensuring the roads are safe. But the driver’s card makes the state an active participant in a conspiracy to violate federal law.

We have long supported federal immigration reform, and a pathway to legal residency for those immigrants meeting stringent requirements. Count us among those who think Congress has dawdled for its part.

But federal reform is the first step in the normalization of the status of illegal immigrants, not an after thought. This measure puts the cart before the horse.

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