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Air travel an issue in driver’s card debate

October 11, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — One of the most contentious issues on Oregon’s November ballot is whether immigrants who can’t prove legal presence in the U.S. should be given cards that would let them legally drive. One of the biggest points of dispute is whether holders of these driver’s cards could use them as identification to board airplanes.

Proponents of Measure 88 say the cards could only be used for driving — and not for flying. But opponents say the cards could be used for that purpose.

Fact-checking by The Associated Press found that federal rules would indeed allow the cards to be used for domestic air travel, but it’s a moot point because showing a foreign passport already gets you on the plane — you don’t necessarily need a state-issued driver’s license.

Following are some facts about Measure 88 and air travel.

WHAT MEASURE 88 SAYS: The measure asks voters to accept or reject a state law signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber last year that would grant four-year licenses to Oregonians who can’t prove legal status in the United States. To qualify for the driver’s card, a person would have to present a valid foreign passport or consular document and proof of state residency.

TSA’S CURRENT RULES ON ID FOR TRAVEL: For flights within the United States, passengers need to prove their identity, usually with a driver’s license or some other state-issued ID, but a U.S. or foreign passport can be used. The TSA does not check immigration status. Essentially, immigrants who lack legal status can already board airplanes with a foreign passport when traveling domestically. That’s the same document they would present to receive a driver’s card in Oregon. The TSA says “travel document checking is just one layer of TSA’s defense for aviation security. Officers are trained to detect and potentially deter individuals who may attempt to board an aircraft with fraudulent documents.”

WHAT PROPONENTS SAY: Proponents say issuing the licenses would increase safety by prompting more people to learn the rules of the road and get insurance. “The law never considered it being anything other than for driving privileges,” said Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries and a member of the coalition to pass the measure. As for TSA rules, Stone said: “All we can control is the Oregon law.”

WHAT OPPONENTS SAY: Opponents say the driver’s cards would reward illegal behavior and facilitate crime. “In essence, a driver card would become acceptable just like a regular Oregon driver license,” Oregonians for Immigration Reform said in a statement. “With the threat of international terrorism, the spread of ebola and other third-world diseases, it’s vital to take all possible precautions in the control of immigration.” But the group’s founder Jim Ludwick concedes: “We don’t know the fine points of the TSA regulations.”

WHAT MEASURE 88 SAYS: The measure’s ballot title states: “The driver card may not be used as identification for air travel, to enter a federal building, to register to vote or to obtain any government benefit requiring proof of citizenship or lawful presence in United States.” The text — and the bill signed last year - says the cards can be used “only to provide evidence of a grant of driving privileges.” Neither specifies what the cards cannot be used for.

WHAT STATE OFFICIALS SAY: “The Oregon Supreme Court, after hearing from proponents and opponents, certified that the ballot summary accurately reflected the text of the measure,” said Tony Green, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office. Green said enforceability of a state statute gets addressed after a measure passes.

TSA’S RULES WILL CHANGE: The agency will continue to accept driver’s cards and other state-issued identification at airport security points for at least two more years, when the government phases in the REAL ID Act. The law was passed after the 2011 terrorist attacks to strengthen rules for government-sanctioned identification. The tougher standards go into effect “no sooner than 2016.” Afterward, state-issued IDs could only be used with a second form of identification.

SO WHATS THE BOTTOM LINE?: If Measure 88 passes, travelers would be able to use driver’s cards to get onto an airplane — but they could board anyway with a foreign passport.

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