I Drive Colorado campaign seeks wider access for immigrant licenses
December 5, 2015
Although Colorado passed legislation more than two years ago to provide immigrants equal access to state-issued licenses and IDs, thus far the services are only available at three locations across the state.
I Drive Colorado is a statewide coalition formed to encourage Governor John Hickenlooper to fully implement Senate Bill 251, the Colorado Road and Community Safety Act.
In June 2013 Hickenlooper signed the bill into law, allowing taxpaying immigrants in Colorado to pass a driver safety test, purchase car insurance, legally register vehicles and provide ID if requested by law enforcement. The SB 251 licenses are financed through a self-funded fee, with qualifying recipients paying more than three times the amount the rate charged to citizens and permanent residents.
In 2015 the Joint Budget Committee, lead by Republican members, denied spending authority to the Department of Revenue, effectively hijacking $166,000 in fees paid by immigrant Coloradans. The funds were intended to expand the number of offices providing SB 251 licenses from 5 to 15. As a result the Department of Revenue reduced the locations to Denver, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction.
Sophia Clark, the Rocky Mountain region organizer for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, said her group is part of the I Drive campaign and they anticipate the issue being a hot topic during the 2016 legislative session.
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"We're meeting with the legislature because we know this is a concern to those involved," she said. "Most county sheriff's and police chiefs support full implementation."
Javier Dominguez, coordinator with Summit-based Unidos Por La Igualdad, who also is a board member with CIRC, said there is a glaring need to expand the license program.
"They need to open more offices and be more flexible with scheduling," he said. "In Frisco the DMV office wanted to do it but they were prohibited."
Mina Chavez, a member of the Gypsum-based Eagles Unidos group, said she has lived in the state for a number of years, working and paying taxes.
"A license now allows me to participate more fully and to be able to transport my children without fear," she shared. "I know so many others who feel the same, but unfortunately have not had the chance to obtain their license."
The reduced number of offices offering SB 251 license services translates to just 31 daily appointments available on a first come, first served basis. There have also been reported cases of appointments being sold illegally.
"It's not good, some people are paying $150 or $200 to get a spot in line," Dominguez said.
Worse yet, there have been instances of fraud where people pay for nonexistent appointments, Clark shared.
"There is this issue of people selling appointments and some fake appointments sold," she said. "Even if it's a real appointment people should not be selling them."
As many have experienced, doing business with the DMV can sometimes become more involved than anticipated.
"Often people make more than one trip to the DMV," Dominguez said. "We're losing days of work and we're losing money."
Chavez said her experience obtaining the IDs available to immigrants was less than ideal.
"Even though I got an appointment, I had to travel two hours several times in order to get my license," she said. "I had to take off two days of work, and my husband also had to miss work to drive me."
The I Drive Colorado coalition is launching a campaign to catalog incidents of people who have had difficulty navigating the process to obtain an immigrant license. Anyone wishing to share their experience can use an online form to tell their story.
There is also a mobile text campaign to share the latest developments, which are available by texting IDriveColorado (for English) or YoManejoColorado (for Spanish) to 23559 for updated information.
Clark stressed the IDs available to immigrants are designated as invalid for federal identification purposes or voter registration — In fact it is a felony for non-citizens to register to vote.
Homero Ocon, founding member of Drivers Licenses for All, whose website provides information on the ID application process, said the law's intention is to increase road safety and strengthen communities.
"The license allows people access to insurance, driving down costs for everyone," he said. "We haven't seen any of these benefits because a handful of legislators has held the fees collected hostage."