Colorado residents who are in the country illegally may soon be able to obtain driver’s licenses, after a bill proposing such a measure passed a state legislative committee on April 10.
State Senate Bill 251 would allow immigrants to apply for state-issued IDs that are only meant to be used for driving purposes.
Democratic Sen. Jessie Ulibarri of Commerce City, the bill’s sponsor, said during an April 10 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that the measure would result in a reduction of unlicensed and uninsured motorists in Colorado.
Ulibarri said immigrants are driving anyway, and that it’s in everyone’s benefit that they are doing so lawfully and are carrying proper insurance.
“At some point we must recognize that our (immigrant) neighbors are here,” Ulibarri said.
“We see them every day in the grocery store. We see them in our local communities, at church or passing by at school. To have a system that ignores their presence means we have a policy that really discourages honesty, and it’s at the expense of public safety.”
The bill would require immigrants to show certain types of legal documentation whenever they seek a driver’s license, such as an ID from their country of origin and proof that they have filed state income taxes. That’s in addition to standard driving tests.
Those who obtain these “separate category” types of licenses would not be able to use them to board airplanes or to register to vote.
Ulibarri cited statistics from neighboring states that have similar laws, including Utah and New Mexico, where he said the numbers of uninsured drivers have dropped significantly over the years. Denver Police Sgt. Michael Farr testified that the bill would help law enforcement agencies’ relationships with the immigrant community in investigating crimes, and would result in fewer drivers leaving the scenes of accidents.
Other witnesses provided personal narratives about the challenges associated with not being able to obtain driver’s licenses.
Esmeralda Dominguez of Denver testified that she is a U.S. citizen, but that her husband is not. She said they have a son who must attend several medical appointments a week, and that she is the only one who can take him because her husband cannot legally drive.
“This issue has nothing to do with ... immigration issues,” she said. “(My husband) qualifies for (legal status), but that’s taking a long time. This is affecting my family. It is an everyday issue we’re dealing
No one testified in opposition to the bill, which passed the Democratic-controlled committee on a 3-2 party-line vote. Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud, a committee member, told Ulibarri he had “several concerns with this bill on several levels.”
He said he doesn’t think the measure would make the roads safer and that he is concerned that more people would come to Colorado illegally, for such a privilege.
“This is one more step down the road toward ammnesty,” Lundberg said. “It creates a magnet.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for a vote.