If Senate Bill 833 becomes law, Oregon will join a few other states in granting driver licenses to people not legally in our country. Debate is understandably emotional and personal for those seeking the licenses; the same applies to folks who’ve witnessed what happens when driving privileges are extended to the wrong people.

Case in point:  Craig and Judy Cox from Newberg. In 1980 the couple and others were in a car hit by a drunk driver in the country illegally. Craig’s bookkeeper was killed, Judy was hospitalized and left with seizures for life.

Fast forward 27 years:  Another illegal immigrant drunk driver slammed into the Coxes’ car leaving 66-year old Judy dead at the scene and 72-year old Craig a bereaved widower. The perpetrator had six previous DUII convictions and multiple license suspensions.

Obviously, not every “undocumented” person is a drunk driver. However, this case shows what can happen when we give driver licenses to people who have already shown disregard for the law. If breaking immigration laws doesn’t matter, why worry about breaking other laws?

Judy’s tragic death happened shortly after former Governor Ted Kulongoski’s executive order cracked down on licensing rules “to more effectively prevent fraud and criminal activity.” The 2008 Legislature put the new standards in state law.

Testimony from the Oregon Association of Nurseries (OAN), a key backer SB 833, talks about public safety, and how loosening rules for obtaining a license will reduce the number of uninsured drivers.  Fact is, since the law was changed, ODOT says the “before and after changes in driver licensing requirements shows no apparent impact on unlicensed/uninsured driving.”

Advocates also say SB 833 will “create more access to job opportunities,” because these undocumented people can now legally drive to work. Yet, federal law prohibits employment for people without proper legal presence.

Oregon Association of Nurseries  testimony said this bill “helps Oregon residents follow the law by providing their identity,” etc.  It seems hypocritical for backers of SB 833 to want these people to “follow the law” for licensing, but not for immigration.

Issuing these Oregon driver licenses is basically giving people, who aren’t here legally, state-sanctioned permission to be on our roads and therefore, in our country.

Supporters say undocumented residents are here anyway, so they should have a driver license. Are they saying it’s okay for some people to ignore some laws but not others? For a free society, citizens need to respect and obey the law. If we adopt government policies condoning unlawful behavior, aren’t we jeopardizing the rule of law? I understand some are seeking a better life for their families. However, good intentions don’t give people rights to disobey the law by being in the country illegally.

We should streamline the federal process to gain proper legal status. Lawful immigration is great; breaking the law is not. SB 833 moves our state in the wrong direction and sends the wrong message.

(Kim Thatcher represents State House District 25. She can be reached at 503-986-1425 or via email at