This weekend a copy of the May 15 East Oregonian came across my coffee table. I was shocked to see a Greg Barreto advertisement that made a case against providing drivers licenses to undocumented individuals. The 1/2 page color spread listed a series of names of "illegals" who committed crimes in Oregon over the past 20 years. Not surprisingly, the ad does not cite the sources of the information they used.
This poorly contrived ad make an unfair comparison between the immigrant and non-immigrant populations in Umatilla County, assuming that "locals" are somehow less inclined to commit crimes than their international counterparts. Specifically, the piece focused on "illegals" and Latinos. I was horrified to see that both a political candidate (for any party) and the East Oregonian would run an ad that endorses anti-Latino sentiment, attacking Latino families and individuals by trying deprive them of a driver's license. Residents of Umatilla County should know that their Latino friends and neighbors have brought so much to the area: a skilled workforce, culture, diversity and jobs.
From a legislative perspective, Barreto also gets it wrong. Allowing any individual the privilege of having a driver's license regardless of their immigration status improves communities in two specific and meaningful ways. First, it makes communities safer by ensuring that all drivers are educated about motor safety and driving laws. Second, parents and individuals will live with less fear knowing that they can travel, go to work, take their kids to school and participate in community events without feeling like second-class residents. A third positive outcome of granting licenses is increased revenue for the state, county and local vendors as the base of safe, licensed drivers grows.
As a past resident of Umatilla County, I hope that my old home county is above the petty politics and culture of exclusion promoted by this ad. Hopefully, voters will send a clear message to Greg Barreto that they are better than this. It's hard to feel that Barreto has the county's interests at heart when he is willing to engage in a dirty, misleading campaign like this.