Yesterday, on the steps of the Colorado state capitol, sixty supporters gathered to celebrate the introduction of a bill that would grant licenses to undocumented Colorado residents. Leaders from religious and community organizations spoke to cameras from the English and Spanish press.
Senator Jessie Ulibarri (D – Commerce City), the sponsor of Senate Bill 251, introduced the bill Monday. “It’s just common sense to make licenses available to them so they pass driver tests, buy auto insurance to make our roads and communities safer.”
Officially titled the Colorado Road and Community Safety Act, the proposed law is the result of a year and a half of tireless organizing. The grassroots group, Driver’s Licenses for All, grew out of the Initiative 52 ballot campaign – where supporters gathered signatures to get driver’s licenses for all Colorado residents – regardless of immigration status – on the 2012 ballot. In its first year, this all-volunteer group was able to recruit 1200 volunteers and collect 30,000 signatures.
This resounding support reveals not only the dedication of the organizers, but also the importance of the issue to Colorado residents. “So many people have passed days, even months in jail for the sole reason that they did not have a driver’s license,” said one community member.
When the group did not gather enough signatures to make it to the ballot last year, they decided to switch gears and try the legislative path.
According to the group, as many as 150,000 Colorado residents would qualify for licenses under this new bill. A wide variety of organizations have signed letters of support for the proposed law, including the Colorado Council of Churches, the state sheriff association, the Colorado ACLU, Jobs with Justice, and the Colorado Progressive Coalition. In addition, over 300 Colorado businesses have signed onto the campaign.
Colorado is one of over a dozen states considering driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. Under the current proposal, the licenses would look almost identical to those of citizens residing in Colorado with one difference: under restrictions, on the front of the license there would be a code, and on the back an explanation – non-citizen. The font and size would be identical to other restrictions like glasses or contacts. Eventually all non-citizen immigrants would have this restriction on their license.
While not ideal, supporters explain that the compromise was necessary for the bill to have a chance at passing. This particular component is a direct response to politicians’ concerns that the license would be used by non-citizens to vote illegally. And while there are no cases of proven voter fraud by undocumented people in the US, this would ensure the Colorado license couldn’t be used for such purposes.
According to supporters, the law would undo much of the damage caused by a 1999 law barring undocumented immigrants from getting driver’s licenses, car insurance, and registering their vehicle.
“I’ve lived in Colorado my whole life and I could see the difference after ‘99, after the law was passed to take licenses away from people, just the way that further divided our communities and pushed people to the edges and barred people from being able to be responsible,” explained one organizer. “It just doesn’t seem fair or productive, and this seems like a common sense way to make the community better and more whole again.”