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Governor's ID plan necessary, overdue

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It's hard to argue with Gov. Ted Kulongoski's plan requiring people to show a valid Social Security number in order to get an Oregon driver's license.

The new rules are long overdue and a reasonable first step toward stemming the flow of illegal immigrants into Oregon.

Oregon is one of only seven states that still allows people to obtain licenses without first proving their citizenship. That loophole in the law has made Oregon an ideal place for criminals and illegal immigrants to obtain identification cards, and something has to give.

At the risk of stating the obvious, no one but the citizens of Oregon deserve Oregon driver's licenses, which ensure the licensee has at least a basic understanding of traffic laws and has paid his or her insurance. No less important is the way Oregon driver's licenses and ID cards are perceived by institutions at home and around the world - as proof of legal status.

Oregon is unquestionably within its rights to reserve the privilege of issuing driver's licenses and ID cards to its own citizens.

Besides, it was just a matter of time until the U.S. Department of Homeland Security stepped in and forced Oregon's hand through the national REAL ID program, which mandates that states obtain proof of citizenship before issuing driver's licenses. The federal rules, which are scheduled to take effect 2011, are one step toward stemming the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. and another step toward improving national security. No question getting the new federally mandated cards will be a hassle because the applicants will have to provide Social Security cards and birth certificates, but once the system is in place it should provide many ancillary benefits, including lower incidences of identity theft, unqualified driving, voter fraud, and unlawful access to firearms; with more efficient ingress and egress at the nation's airports and customs stations.

Kulongoski is predictably taking some heat from people who are concerned the new rules will make it more difficult for illegal immigrants or unauthorized visitors to drive legally. Such claims ignore the underlying cause of these circumstances - failure of the applicants to follow existing policies and procedures to establish citizenship.

It seems a bit disingenuous to fly into Oregon under the radar, and then complain when the governor wants to clamp down on laws to improve the security and safety of its citizens. That's what governors are supposed to do, and Kulongoski is doing it in a thoughtful and forthright manner.

There is little disagreement in this country about the need for an effective illegal immigration policy. The devil, as they say, is in the details. Doing nothing won't make the problem go away.

Kulongoski has struck what appears to be an appropriate balance between protecting the interests of Oregonians and gently moving illegal immigrants toward respect for state sovereignty. It is considerate, practical and decisive, which in our book makes it a winner. R.S.