DENVER – Illegal immigrants would be eligible to get Colorado driver’s licenses under a bill Democrats plan to introduce Monday, the third substantial piece of immigration legislation this year for a party that a few years ago joined Republicans in passing strict enforcement laws.
With the proposal, Colorado would join only a handful of states in the nation that allow driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. New Mexico and Washington allow illegal immigrants to obtain the same driver’s licenses as U.S. citizens. Illinois passed a law this year.
Colorado Democratic Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, the sponsor of the bill, said illegal immigrants are already driving, whether it is to take their children to school or take loved ones to the hospital.
“If they’re driving on our roads, we want to make sure that every single driver is licensed and insured,” he said.
The bill, to be unveiled during a news conference, will be called the “Colorado Road and Community Safety Act.”
Republican Sen. Kent Lambert argued the proposal would violate federal immigration law.
“Maybe he plans to override all federal law. I think that’s very problematic,” said Lambert, who has been a staunch opponent of illegal immigration.
“If people are here illegally, that means it’s illegal to do this,” he said.
Immigrant advocates tried to get a driver’s licenses proposal on the ballot last year, but failed to get enough signatures to send it to voters. The group that pushed that ballot proposal, Driver’s Licenses For All, said that everyone would benefit if drivers who are currently unlicensed learned the rules of the road and got insurance.
“It’s not a benefit for them. It’s a benefit for everyone,” said Esmeralda Dominguez, an organizer with the group.
Ulibarri said the licenses would show that the people are not U.S. citizens so they would not be able to register to vote.
Immigrants would have to prove they’re paying state and federal taxes and have an identification card from their country to get a driver’s license. Ulibarri said qualifying documents are to show that immigrants “are here in our community, paying taxes, trying to play by the rules” and making themselves known to state government.
Connecticut is considering a similar proposal to Colorado’s this year. Utah grants immigrants a driving permit that can’t be used for identification.
Ulibarri said public opinion about immigration has changed over the last 10 years, and he’s optimistic he can get Republican support for the measure.
In 2006, Democrats joined Republicans in passing a strict package of immigration laws in Colorado, including barring nonemergency benefits to those in the country illegally.
This year, with Democrats in control of the state Legislature, a bill passed granting in-state tuition for illegal immigrants who graduate from Colorado high schools. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to sign the bill soon.
Democrats were also advancing a bill to repeal a 2006 state law that requires law enforcement to report to federal immigration officials people they arrest who are suspected illegal immigrants. The bill has passed the House and is being considered by the Senate.
New Mexico Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has tried unsuccessfully to repeal her state’s driver’s license law.