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Coming together for a cause
Sen. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Commerce City) presents the bill to the Senate. (Photo courtesy: Colorado Senate Majority)

By Bertha Velasquez

New driver’s license pending governor’s signature

It has been a long and hard fought battle championed by the immigrant community and its supporters to push for legislation that would allow immigrants who are in the country illegally and who are residents in Colorado to obtain a drivers license.

That battle saw victories after the Colorado Road and Community Safety Act (SB 13-251) was passed in the Colorado Senate and most recently in Colorado’s House.

Freshman Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Commerce City, is a sponsor of the legislation. He made the decision to become involved after talking with a group (Driver’s Licenses for All) that was pushing in support for this cause. The grassroots group developed from the “Initiative 52 ballot campaign that collected more than 30,000 signatures with 1,200 volunteers and less than $12,000,” read its website. Ulibarri, who said he’s been working in public safety and immigration issues for almost a decade, said “it just made a lot of sense for us to work on SB 251.”

Ulibarri explained the specifics of the bill saying that those interested in applying for this type of driver’s license must first meet certain criteria. They must provide an individual taxpayer identification number to demonstrate taxpayer history and present either an identification card issued by their consulate or a military ID. If they are not able to present taxpayer history, they must provide “anything that establishes two year residency,” he said.
The bill would now permit them to obtain a driver’s license, instruction permit or for identification.

“It would be one of the biggest things that would impact the life of immigrants,” said Juan Gallegos, communications coordinator for Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC). “You have to drive to the hospital, you have to drive your children to school, you have to drive to work — everywhere you have to go.”

The bill would not allow people who hold this type of identification to vote, however.

It’s “not valid for federal identification and voting or public benefit purposes,” Ulibarri said. You cannot use it to board a plane or for federal assistance such as attaining food stamps.

Supporters of the bill say that in allowing those who are eligible to obtain this driver’s license, the streets and roads of Colorado will ultimately be much safer and expect an increase in the purchase of car insurance.

“I think it’s a bill to be able to drive safely on the road so people can get insurance or so that people can get tested before they go on the road,” Gallegos said. “It can make it safer and so the insurance prices don’t go up.” Gallegos talked about increased road safety because of the bill, saying that hit and runs would decrease — similar to those of New Mexico, which allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a drivers license — because more people will have purchased insurance.

“We need to hold everyone accountable for their actions on the road and driver’s licenses help us do that. Licenses help peace officers quickly identify people and allow drivers to get insurance. In fact, with this legislation, we can expect that up to 150,000 more Colorado drivers will get insurance,” said Pres. John Morse (D-Colo. Springs), the bill’s co-prime sponsor.

“It’s been an inspiration to see how far our community can fight for policy that safeguards the public good — the common good — this measure has public safety benefits that individuals are treated fairly under the law,” Ulibarri said. He mentioned the support from various individuals and organizations including the Colorado Catholic Conference and from law enforcement. “It just shows me how much we can do when we come together to fight for a cause,” he said. Supporters include the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police and the County Sheriffs of Colorado.

Pending now is just the fresh ink from Gov. Hickenlooper’s signature. Asked if he thinks the governor will sign the bill into law, Ulibarri said, “I’m optimistic.”

Once signed into law, there would now be a new license category, Ulibarri said, which means that the Division of Motor Vehicles will have to create an application process for this type of new driver’s license. He said the process to obtain the license would be available August of next year. Those looking to apply for a driver’s license, Ulibarri said, “should be getting their documents in order.”

Other states that permit immigrants who came to this country illegally to obtain a valid driver’s license are Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington.





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