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Immigrants struggling for licenses in Colorado

Despite new law, obstacles thwart applicants’ efforts

DENVER – Only about half of Colorado immigrants who have recently been allowed to get a driver’s license or identification card regardless of their legal status have managed to get documents during the first two weeks of a new law.

Data from the Colorado Department of Revenue also show that about 10 percent of immigrants who make appointments for licenses or IDs are not showing up.

Immigrant advocates who have been monitoring the five offices around the state where the documents are being issued say applicants have encountered many challenges, including not having a manual in Spanish to study for the written driving test and being confused about what documentation to present.

The Revenue Department has worked on a Spanish manual and posted it on its website Friday. English is the only other language in which the manual is available.

Colorado began issuing licenses or IDs to immigrants, regardless of whether they’re here illegally or have temporary legal status, starting Aug. 1. As of Wednesday, there had been 1,395 appointments. Of those, 502 resulted in a driver’s license, and 231 resulted in a driving permit or ID card, according to the most recent data available.

Another 523 did not receive any documents. State officials say they’re still analyzing the data.

“It’s either that certain documents aren’t being brought in, or that they’re not passing the written test,” said Barbara Brohl, the executive director of the Revenue Department, which oversees the Motor Vehicle Division offices. She said she hopes having a foreign-language manual will help immigrants pass the test, which can be taken in Spanish.

Brohl said she’s heard from advocates for immigrants that people have been confused about how to cancel appointments online, so officials have changed the state website to make it easier.

The rollout of the law so far has some advocates frustrated. They say the state needs to allow immigrants to get licenses at all 37 MVD offices across the state to meet high demand, instead of only having five offices handling appointments.

The state has scheduled about 9,500 appointments in Denver, Grand Junction, Aurora, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins for the first three months that the law is in effect. Immigrants have complained they’ve been unable to make appointments because there’s been an initial surge, or they’ve had to make appointments somewhere far from their home.

Traveling long distances, being unfamiliar with the city where they take the driving test and not having a Spanish manual until now, is part of the reason immigrants are failing to get licenses, said Ignacio Ramirez, a volunteer with Driver’s Licenses for All, which lobbied for the law’s passage last year.

“People are desperate,” he said in an interview in Spanish. “The law is not working.”

Colorado was among eight states that passed laws last year allowing identification documents for people in the country illegally. New Mexico passed a law granting the documents to immigrants in 2003.

Supporters of such laws say it will lead to safer roads because drivers who get licenses will have a better understanding of the rules, and law enforcement will correctly identify people in traffic stops and accidents.

Brohl said her office has developed a good relationship with most immigrant advocacy groups and is working to address their concerns.

“There are a few that are still not as happy as we would like them to be,” she said.

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