Two immigrant rights bills have recently been passed by the Legislature and with the governor’s signature will soon become law. 

A tuition equity bill, House Bill 2787, allows undocumented students who are residents of Oregon and have graduated from an Oregon high school to pay in-state tuition to attend a public university. The numbers will be less than 50 next year, but the idea of pursuing the American Dream by getting a college education is huge.   

Senate Bill 833, meanwhile, will enable immigrant workers to be eligible for an immigrant state driver’s license. This will enable thousands of immigrants drive to work legally and the rest of us to benefit from safer roads. While both bills focus on our Latino citizens, other immigrants will benefit as well.    

The vote breakdown shows the Republican Party evenly divided (7 and 7) in the Senate on driving privileges, while House Rs were mostly “no” voters (20 of 26). On the more symbolic tuition equity vote, GOP legislators were mostly in the “no” column in both chambers (11 of 14 and 20 of 26). 

On both bills all Democrats voted “yes” except those excused.

So while the national leadership of the GOP is trying to figure out how to reach out to the Latino vote, too many of Oregon’s GOP legislators remain tone deaf. The Latino vote in Oregon is a growing political demographic not just in Washington County or the People’s Republic of Portland, but all over Oregon — and especially in communities with a long history of migrant farm labor like Hood River or Woodburn.

Washington County elected its first Latino legislator, Joe Gallegos, to the state House last November in a surprising victory over incumbent Republican Rep. Sean Lindsay, who was supported by the social conservative wing of the GOP. Gallegos, a Hillsboro educator, is the tip of the iceberg. He’s not the first Latino to win a legislative seat or statewide post, but he was the most unlikely winner, having entered the race late in the game, replacing a Latina candidate who dropped out.

Gallegos’ victory shows that the Latino vote can’t be ignored any more in Oregon. It’s going to be an increasing factor in local and statewide races. For the Republicans to be clueless to this “new normal” illustrates how out of touch the GOP really is. 

If some Republican members of Congress use the Boston bombing tragedy to justify stopping immigration reform as it moves from the bi-partisan Gang of 8 in the Senate to the Tea Party-bullied House, the image of the GOP being anti-Latino and anti-immigrant will be sealed for decades well beyond the two terms of President Barack Obama. 

Let’s hope reason prevails over right-wing ideology in the GOP and that bi-partisan support on this issue emerges in Oregon and in Washington, D.C.

But already there are rumblings in Oregon that a group is going to challenge the newly passed driver’s license bill in an initiative campaign. Some people just refuse to get the message. Oregon is no longer the homogenous white middle-class state David Broder once described back in the ‘50s. We are increasingly a state of considerable diversity, with Latino, Asian and African-American residents and workers. Some are native-born, others are immigrants. (You can blame the high-tech industry for this, in part, because it recruits engineers worldwide since Oregon doesn’t produce enough of them.)

When one shops at Costco in Beaverton, it’s like walking into a mini United Nations.

As the paternal head of a family whose marital roots have connections to Italy, Germany, England, Japan and India, my motto is “Viva la difference!”     

Russ Dondero is professor emeritus, Department of Politics and Government, Pacific University. Read his blogs at

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