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Colorado bill would make it simpler, faster for immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses

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Sara Wilson

(Colorado Newsline) It would be easier for new immigrants in Colorado to apply for and obtain driver’s licenses under a bill working its way through the Legislature.

They would be able to apply for a license immediately, instead of after living two years in the state, and wouldn’t need a Colorado income tax return to qualify.

PICT Sample Colorado Driver License - DOR

Sample Colorado driver license. The star in the upper right corner indicates the license is compliant with federal REAL ID requirements. Courtesy DOR

“It shouldn’t matter where you’re born when obtaining your driver’s license. It really matters that you know the rules of the road,” bill sponsor Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat, said.

The bill aims to make sure “folks are able to access these licenses just like anybody else if you were moving from, say, Kansas to Colorado,” she said.

Senate Bill 24-182 made it through its first committee on Monday on a 4-1 bipartisan vote. It has the support of sponsor Rep. Tim Hernández, a Denver Democrat, in the House.

Undocumented immigrants are already allowed to obtain driver’s licenses under the 2013 Colorado Road and Community Safety Act, but the requirements can be arduous, sponsors said. Immigrants must have lived in the state for at least two years, have filed an income tax return and present a documented Social Security number or individual taxpayer identification number. Additionally, they need original copies of their passport, consular identification card or military identification document. Witnesses at the state Capitol testified that those documents can get lost in the journey to the United States or be taken at the border.

“Really, we’re just creating barriers to folks that are on our roads anyway. The most important thing we can do here is make sure everyone on our roads knows the rules of roads and has access to the insurance coverage they need,” bill sponsor Sen. Jeff Bridges, a Greenwood Village Democrat, said.

Bridges and witnesses said that many of the undocumented immigrants in the state — including the tens of thousands of recent arrivals from South American countries — drive, regardless of whether they have an official license. Under the current law, those new arrivals have to wait two years before qualifying for a license.

“The benefits of having a valid license are many. People can lawfully drive their kids to school, drive to the doctor, to the store, to work, and they can do so safely because they’re trained, licensed and much more likely to have vehicle insurance and registration,” said Peter Bakken, the director of the Summit County-based immigrant advocacy group Mountain Dreamers.

Really, we’re just creating barriers to folks that are on our roads anyway. The most important thing we can do here is make sure everyone on our roads knows the rules of roads and has access to the insurance coverage they need.

– Sen. Jeff Bridges

The bill would repeal the residency length, Social Security number and tax return requirement, and allow more acceptable identification documents, including a photocopy of a passport from the immigrant’s country of origin. They could also use a voter identification card or driver’s license from that country, an identifying document from the Department of Justice or Department of Homeland Security, an identification card issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or a verification-of-release card from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Those documents would need to be current or less than 10 years expired.

That’s just to apply — they would still need to pass a written exam, vision check and driving test to get a license.

Since 2013, about 200,000 undocumented Coloradans have received a license or permit and 170,000 have purchased car insurance, according to Sophie Shea with the Colorado Fiscal Institute. That amounts to an estimated $127 million in annual savings on insurance premiums for Coloradans, since the prevalence of insurance benefits all.

“This program has made our roads safer. It has benefited Colorado’s economy and it provided immigrant residents safety, security and the opportunity to meaningfully integrate here in our state,” said Siena Mann, who works on policy with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.

The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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