DENVER – Colorado’s undocumented community and immigrants’ rights groups say the program allowing undocumented people to get IDs and driver’s licenses is immensely helpful, and say they are supporting a new bill that would expand the program.
House Bill 1206 is set for its first committee hearing Wednesday in the House Local Government Committee.
The bill would expand a state law that allows people living in the state illegally to obtain a driver’s license or ID by presenting a host of taxpayer documents, other government documents and paying a fee more than three times higher the fee for residents.
The bill, if passed, would expand the law to allow people to use Social Security cards to obtain the license or ID, and would also allow them to renew their licenses online like U.S.-citizen residents.
Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Boulder, says the inclusion of Social Security numbers in the new bill would allow immigrants who received Social Security numbers before the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act was put in place to also be eligible for the license program. DREAMers also receive Social Security cards and would be affected by the new bill.
Singer also says that the new bill, if passed, would allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to get valid driver's licenses should the program be repealed -- which he says would affect more than 33,000 Coloradans.
Undocumented college student details arduous process
In 2013, the Colorado Legislature passed Senate Bill 251, which established the Colorado Road and Community Safety Act and the standards for undocumented people to legally obtain a license, permit or ID card.
It’s what allowed Saul, a 25-year-old undocumented college student in Denver who agreed to speak to Denver7 on the condition his full name not be used, to get a license in the first place.
He says he’s grateful for the law in the first place, but hopes the new bill will pass the governor’s desk as well to put him on par with others in the state having to renew their licenses.
Saul also detailed to Denver7 the great lengths he had to go to in order to get his license in the first place.
After coming to the U.S. from Mexico around age 3, Saul moved across the southern U.S. on and off for more than a decade, with some trips back to Mexico in between. He says he’s spent “15 or 16” of his 25 years in the U.S.
He says he attended elementary, middle and high school in the U.S., and moved to Denver to go to college. He says he was ecstatic when he found out about the new law allowing him to get a legal driver’s licenses, but soon ran into the realities of the then-new program.
The law makes undocumented people schedule an appointment “up to 90 days” ahead of their anticipated meeting, then travel to one of three statewide offices that offer the services for undocumented people. The offices are located in Denver, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction.
Saul says that like many others, it took him three or four months to even get one of the limited appointments.
“It was a total of 7 months before I could even step foot inside the DMV,” Saul said.
But when he drove down to Colorado Springs for his scheduled appointment, he ran into another setback.
“I had to bring extra documents – two years of taxes here in Colorado, proof of residency, form of my I-10 number (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number), and a passport or some kind of ID from a foreign country,” he said. “On my first visit, I had all the documents ready, according to the website. But when I got there, they said I didn’t.”
He says he begrudgingly accepted his fate, saying that he believed the DMV workers “understood her job better than me,” Saul said.
But he went home, re-checked his documents, and found he indeed had all the correct documents. He called the DMV and was told he’d have to schedule another appointment and wait months once again. Though the DMV spokesperson said he had all the correct documents over the phone, he claims, Saul was told DMV employees “needed more training on the law.”
But he talked the DMV into getting him another appointment after some back-and-forth, though he again had to wait three months. He wasn’t the only one – there was a massive backlog when the system initially rolled out as thousands of people tried to get their licenses or IDs.
At one point, the state lowered the number of daily appointments for the special licenses from 155 to 31 per day across the state.
What do licenses mean for undocumented people?
But he made it through the wait, and eventually got his license, something that’s very important to undocumented people trying to fit in in American society.
“Transportation specifically is a driving factor for health – not only a person’s ability to drive to the doctor or health clinic, but a fundamental part of securing basic necessities in life – groceries, work, etc.,” said Joe Sammen, the Executive Director of Colorado Coalition for Medically Underserved – one of at least 20 health and immigrant rights groups who have thrown their support behind the new bill.
“Any barriers that sort of limit their ability to get to basic human needs are things we need to resolve in the community, and this legislation is a small step to relieving some barriers,” he said.
He says that there were “some limits” to the original law passed in 2013, but says the new legislation is aimed at alleviating those.
“I’m encouraged that some legislators have taken the opportunity to craft a Colorado approach to community issues,” Sammen said. “It continues to happen this session, as it has in the past.”
But the licenses do come with some limits, according to Saul, that wouldn’t be fixed by the new bill.
The licenses have a large black bar across them that says “Not valid for federal identification, voting, or public benefit purposes,” which Saul says has led to questions from some people when he shows his ID.
“I’m a good person, so to be asked this question, I feel marginalized,” he said. “I feel labeled like a criminal – a label put upon us. I understand they’re asking and they’re ignorant; they want to know what it means. But it still makes you feel bad.”
He says he takes the opportunity to explain his undocumented status and how he feels no different most of the time from most Americans.
“I feel that the less we fear and the more we open up, people will start seeing different faces. I feel like people don’t have a face for an undocumented person,” Saul said. “They believe it’s what Trump said – rapist, cholo, gangbanger – but I just say I’m undocumented.”
He says that people might change their minds about undocumented immigrants if they take the time to talk with one and get to know them.
“Undocumented immigrants are the ones they least expect. I used to tell all my friends I was from Texas because I was scared. I’m forward, not scared, I say it. They’re surprised,” Saul said. “I feel that makes the change. The more we come out with less fear, the more they’ll realize we were here the whole time and they never knew. They’ll see things differently.”
He says that many of the “bad hombres” referred to by the president are actually Americans who don’t have support at home and end up trapped in the cycle many go through in low-income areas and inner-cities across the country – another reason he says he wants to succeed.
“It’s a cycle. I’ve seen it; I’ve lived it,” he said. “There’s no way out…it’s society. Surroundings. No hope in mind. If there’s no hope, then what is there to fight for?”
But he says that Colorado’s law allowing undocumented immigrants to drive, and the new bill that could expand their renewal options, are much-needed for the undocumented community.
“It makes a huge change. So now, I would know that I won’t have to do that 7- or 8-month process again. I won’t have to have that mental breakdown as to what I’m going to do if it’s delayed,” Saul says of the possibility the new bill gets passed. “It’s a huge weight off my back.”
But he says he still worries about what might happen to him after he graduates from college, where he is majoring in communications and journalism.
“At this moment, I’m riding the wave to graduate as soon as possible, but after that? That part I just don’t know,” he said. “I wish I did. I wish I had that vision that an American citizen does.”
But he says that like he did for his license, he will fight to stay in America, despite fears he might be deported at any moment.
“I’m never going back,” he says. “This is my place and I’m going to fight until I get it. This is my home.”
House Bill 1206 is set for its first hearing in the House Local Government Committee on March 15. It was introduced Feb. 24 and is sponsored by Rep. Singer and Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Adams Co.