Campaign for immigrant driver's cards ramps up

Campaign for immigrant driver's cards ramps up
FILE -- Nathalie Marquez holds a sign modeled after an Oregon driver’s license at the Capitol, Thursday, May 1, 2014, in Salem, Ore. Hundreds of people rallied at the Oregon Capitol to support immigration reform, including allowing driving rights for people who can’t prove their legal residence, as part of May Day protests in Oregon and around the country. (AP Photo/Chad Garland)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A coalition of groups in Oregon is preparing for what they say could be a hard-fought campaign to approve a ballot measure granting driving privileges to people who can't prove they are legal residents of the U.S.

Unions, immigrant-rights groups and a hospitality-industry lobby group have started pouring money into the YES on Oregon Safe Roads campaign account, which launched in early May and has raised $35,000 so far.

They want voters to approve a measure, which Gov. John Kitzhaber signed last year, granting four-year restricted licenses, called driver's cards, to people who don't have documents proving they are in the country lawfully. They say it's about public safety and access to transportation for all Oregonians, but opponents say it would reward illegal actions and encourage illegal immigration.

The bill was set to go into effect in January, but opponents collected enough signatures last fall to put it before the voters on the November ballot this year.

It would allow immigrants and others to apply for the driver's cards if they have lived in Oregon for at least a year and meet other requirements. The cards cannot be used to vote, board a plane, get government benefits or buy firearms.

Supporters of the measure don't yet have a campaign budget. But with the May primaries over, they plan to ramp up outreach and fundraising efforts even more.

"We are looking at a pretty spendy campaign," said Jeff Stone, a member of the campaign's leadership and executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries. "We're going to have to raise a good deal of money."

The campaign brings together many of the same groups that pushed for the bill in the Legislature last year, he said, including faith, business and labor groups. Its biggest supporter, according to campaign finance records, is the Service Employees International Union, which has contributed $20,000.

There are some new partners, too. The gay-rights group Basic Rights Oregon has pitched in $5,000, the second-largest contribution reported to date.

Some law enforcement groups had supported the measure in the Legislature last year. But Oregon's sheriffs had not taken a position until April, when the group Sheriffs of Oregon announced that 28 of the state's 36 sheriffs oppose the measure.

The campaign opposing the driver's cards, Protect Oregon's Driver's Licenses, has reported raising $6,000 so far. Most of that has come from the group Oregonians for Immigration Reform. Jim Ludwick, a spokesman for the group, said its members are still formulating plans for fundraisers and outreach.

"We think that they can outspend us, but the right is on our side," Ludwick said.

Though opponents have raised little so far on this campaign, their 2013 petition committee brought in more than $140,000, including $100,000 from Nevada business owner Loren Parks, one of the biggest funders of conservative candidates and causes in Oregon.

Bill Lunch, a retired Oregon State University political science professor, said the measure's opponents may have an advantage that isn't measured in dollar amounts. Voters who are confused or uninformed about the measure could choose to oppose it by default.

"Getting a 'no' vote is a heck of a lot easier than getting a 'yes' vote," Lunch said.

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