Posted on November 3, 2008

Spanish Driver’s License Tests Drop 90%

Gosia Wozniacka, Oregonian, Nov. 2, 2008

The DMV office in east Portland does brisk business last February. Since then, when tougher proof of legal residency went into effect, the number of people taking driver’s license tests in Spanish has plummeted.

Stricter driver’s license requirements, which block illegal immigrants from getting a license, have slashed the number of Spanish speakers taking the license test in Oregon.

Critics of illegal immigration say the new law is a success. But community advocates say there has been no exodus of undocumented immigrants from Oregon.

“It’s obviously working in that people who shouldn’t be getting a license are not getting them,” said Jim Ludwick of Oregonians for Immigration Reform. “I don’t think all of them will leave the state, but we have been champions of attrition through enforcement.”

Gov. Ted Kulongoski ordered Driver and Motor Vehicle Services to start verifying Social Security numbers last year. The number of people taking the DMV test in Spanish fell by more than 90 percent after the governor’s order went into effect in February. The number has remained equally low every month since.

Community advocates say those who lost their license are finding alternative ways of getting around, including getting a Washington license and using public transportation.

“Some people thought Latinos in Oregon would start packing their cars. But it’s not happening, and it’s not going to happen,” said Francisco Lopez, director of CAUSA, Oregon’s immigrant rights coalition. “They won’t be going back to extreme poverty in Mexico and unemployment in Guatemala. Despite the new hardship, it’s still better to be here.”

The law has had other effects: lost jobs, fewer people buying auto insurance, home foreclosures and concerns that fewer people are calling for help to social service agencies and police. The law’s full effect won’t be known for years, but advocates and undocumented immigrants say the community is used to living in the shadows.

“Our immigration system has been broken for so long and people are used to adjusting to adverse situations,” CAUSA coordinator Aeryca Steinbauer said.”This law is another barrier, but it’s ridiculous to think people will self-deport if somebody has kids in school or owns a house.”

Impact hard to measure

Estimates of how many undocumented people are in Oregon range from 120,000 to 175,000.