Legislature Again Tackles Driver’s Licenses For Undocumented Immigrants

Listen Now
Photo: Immigrant driver's license (AP Photo)
Immigrant and longtime resident in the United States Rosalva Mireles is photographed after she was processed for her permanent driver's license at a Department of Motor Vehicles office, in Denver, Friday Aug. 1, 2014.

Who's allowed to drive legally in Colorado? That question is fueling a debate at the state Capitol. A law passed in 2013 allowed undocumented immigrants, who live and pay taxes in Colorado, to obtain a driver's license.

But the number of offices around the state able to process those kinds of licenses has fluctuated due to Republican opposition and disputes over funding. There are now three DMVs offices applicants can go: in Denver, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction. Demand has been high though.

Aleida Ramirez, of Denver, who is in the country illegally, says she has been trying for two years to get an appointment. She says she calls in every weekday.

"Three times a day: 8 a.m., noon and 4 p.m.," Ramirez says. "I think it's better to go play the lottery and win then getting an appointment."

State Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, introduced a bill last month to open up more offices using revenue from the fees applicants pay. Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, says he has reservations about the program.

They spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.

Why Singer thinks people living in Colorado illegally should have access to driver's licenses:

"A couple years ago, we put through... a program that was supported by members of law enforcement, as well as members of the immigration reform community that said, 'It's time to get people insured and get driver's licenses.' ... So this is about public safety, rebuilding trust in a community that doesn't always have trust in law enforcement and, at the same time, doing the right thing for regular citizens who deserve to know that people who are on the road know the rules of the road and have insurance."

Singer on what his new bill would do:

"I had people from the immigration community come to me and say... 'I have my driver's license appointment, but it's three months out, it's six months out, it's 12 months out -- and my appointment isn't even in Denver. I've somehow got to get from Denver to Grand Junction for my appointment.' This bill is to make sure we can open up more offices statewide and not just in three far-flung places."

Bill: HB16-1274​

Lundberg on the bigger question he has about this program:

"It's not just how is this program functioning, but should this program have been in place in the first place? There are many in Colorado who do not believe if you came here illegally that we should then put up a system where we try to give sort of a back-door amnesty -- at least to the extent of allowing driver's licenses and letting people integrate into the system here in Colorado, where they didn't start the correct way. It brings me back to a phrase I've heard so many times; 'What part of illegal do you not understand?'"

Sen. Lundberg on how this affects Colorado citizens

"There was an unintended consequence that did occur when it was originally implemented and that is that legitimate citizens in the state of Colorado found that they were unable to get driver's licenses in a timely fashion."

Singer on whether this is a "welcome mat" for illegal immigration:

"You have to show, through either bills that you've received or other affidavits, that you've lived in this state for two years [to apply for one of these licenses]. So I guess that this is a welcome mat that would say, 'Come here, wait two years, then see what happens.' ... We underestimated some things when this first passed, and we're fixing that in a way to make sure that more people are getting on the books and getting their insurance."

Lundberg on where he finds common ground with Singer:

(The Office of the Colorado Attorney General announced earlier this year it will work with the DMV and Colorado Department of Revenue on an investigation into people hoarding and then selling these appointments at high prices.)

"I think [the Republicans and Democrats] can find some common ground in stopping that abuse. I believe the Department of Revenue needs to have a system that doesn't allow somebody to obtain a reservation for a driver's license appointment and then somehow transfer that over to somebody else. That needs to be cured and maybe we need some stout law against the use of a government appointment being sold at a profit. [But] it's not the right course, in my opinion, to say let's open this [program] up even wider."