Knopf: Why does Colorado make it so hard for immigrant to get driver’s licenses? (column)
What would you think if you had to make an appointment to get your driver’s license renewed, and the appointment would be three months from now, quite probably after your current license had expired? Unthinkable? What if you could only call to make the appointment at 8 a.m., noon or 4 p.m.? What if you had to wait on hold for hours and still not get that appointment because there were only 93 slots available per day? Unworkable? What if you could only get your license renewed in Lakewood, Grand Junction or Colorado Springs? Intolerable?
That’s the situation facing undocumented immigrants in Colorado. Why should you care? If that undocumented worker doesn’t have a valid driver’s license, then that driver can’t buy auto insurance … If that driver hits you, you have a problem. We need all drivers to have insurance to protect us. All drivers need insurance whether they are documented are not. Thus undocumented workers who drive, must have valid drivers’ licenses. Here’s the best part — the state of Colorado requires undocumented immigrants who drive to have a valid driver’s license.
So why are our legislators making it so hard for undocumented workers to renew their drivers’ licenses, while putting all of us at risk? Just guessing, because the political climate right now is anti-immigrant. This nightmare system is created by Colorado Senate Bill 13-251 and the Joint Budget Committee. They’re setting up a Catch-22. Immigrants can be deported for committing a crime. Driving without a license is a crime. If you can’t get your license renewed and your insurance lapses, driving without insurance is yet another crime. This system was created with a very low chance of success. That’s the catch. Unless the system is created explicitly to deport otherwise law-abiding immigrant workers.
Let’s think about those immigrants. Who do you think is flipping burgers or washing the dishes at your budget-friendly restaurant? Who do you think is cleaning the hotel rooms and tending the garden beds at the resorts, which is driving the tourism economic sector? Who do you think is going to do those jobs for $8 to $10 per hour? Not documented citizens. And if these human beings have to take hours out of their day to not only make the appointments, but also travel to only three places in the state to get their licenses renewed … how will that impact the people they work for, and the customers they serve? Of course, you are the customers.
Let’s think about what undocumented workers contribute to the economy. They come here with nothing and buy everything: clothes, plates, furniture, cosmetics, medicine, toys, you name it. They drive sales at Wal-Mart and Target. They buy food, driving sales at the grocery stores. They even buy cars and homes. They often pay taxes using phony IDs, and if they use a phony ID at work, they’ll never see a dime of their Social Security payments.
Yeah, we’ve heard the arguments against immigration. The fact is our grandparents came here with steamer ship tickets. Then they found jobs. They worked. They prospered. There was no five- to 10-year waiting period to be documented, just to get a menial labor job paying below market wages. The immigrants at the turn of the 20th century made something of themselves because they had opportunities to do that back then. The government didn’t throw up phony roadblocks, finding any excuse to throw them out of the country. These immigrants had children who grew up to be productive members of society, heck, some of them became masters of industry.
Leprino Foods is a great example. Mike Leprino Sr. came to this country from Italy in 1914. He settled in Denver, worked on a farm and eventually started a grocery store in Denver’s Little Italy to sell his produce. Today, James Leprino, the youngest of Mike’s five children is the biggest seller of mozzarella cheese in the world, supplying Pizza Hut, Dominos and Papa Johns. If there is a desire to make America truly great again, look back to the immigrants who made us great and the country’s attitude towards them in the early 1900s.
We were talking about drivers’ licenses for immigrants. Good news: An additional $1.5 million in state funding will hopefully open up the driver’s license appointments from 93 per day to 217. According to I Drive Colorado, an immigrant’s rights coalition, the immigrant driver’s license program had been hogtied by a ruling of the Joint Budget Committee. The driver’s license program is reportedly self-sustaining; the fees collected pay for the state bureaucracy to run the program. According to IDC, the JBC blocked the Department of Revenue spending authority and shut down two offices that serve immigrants.
The JBC is causing more mayhem capping driver’s licenses at 66,000. When that cap is reached, estimated to be in just a few months, the Colorado Springs and Grand Junction offices are expected to close, leaving only one office in Lakewood to serve all the state’s undocumented immigrants seeking drivers’ licenses. That likely means low-paid workers, often working two jobs, may have to take off from work just to get a driver’s license. And that means a lot of immigrant drivers are going to be driving to work with expired licenses due to the 90-day back log in appointments, and the longer waiting times on the phone to get those appointments.
What can you do to make all of us safer on the road? Contact Representative Millie Hamner at 303-866-2952 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s on the Joint Budget Committee. Contact Senator Randy Baumgartner at 303-866-5292 or email@example.com. Tell them you want to make it easier for all drivers — even those undocumented — to get licenses renewed so we can keep everyone insured and safe.
Attend a Community Navigator workshop to help immigrants get appointments to renew their drivers’ licenses. Monday, June 26, 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. at the Silverthorne Library, Blue River Room. There will be free child care and a light lunch or dinner provided. Contact Javier (habla espanol) 970-409-9606, or Greg O’Neill 970-390-4013.
Susan Knopf is a Summit County resident, and a contributor to the Summit Daily. Susan has won awards from the Associated Press and United Press International for her news reporting. Susan is currently employed as a certified ski instructor at Arapahoe Basin. Jonathan Knopf is 40-year veteran of broadcast journalism, and a regular guest columnist for the Summit Daily News. He is a full-time resident of Summit County.
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