DENVER–A proposed initiative to allow illegal immigrants to obtain Colorado driver’s licenses ended with a whimper Monday after organizers failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
The Initiative 52 campaign, Driver’s Licenses For All, needed to submit 86,105 valid signatures to the Secretary of State’s office by Monday. Organizers pulled the plug on the effort after it became clear they would fall short.
“We didn’t make it, but we’re going to start up again,” said organizer Ignacio Ramirez. “We’re going to start up for the next election.”
The campaign kicked off with a bang in February with coverage on both Denver English and Spanish-language television, and a website that listed more than 30 locations where registered voters could sign the petitions.
With only unpaid volunteers to gather signatures, however, the effort soon stalled. Fox31 News reported that the campaign had gathered only 21,000 signatures as of June 21.
Proponents argued that allowing illegal immigrants to gain drivers licenses would improve public safety. Such drivers would be less likely to leave the scenes of accidents and would be more likely to buy auto insurance as a requirement for obtaining licenses.
Requiring illegal immigrants to pass a driving test would also improve road safety by ensuring that they understand the rules of the road.
“It doesn’t make them legal. It doesn’t make them eligible to work here,” said The Denver Post in a May 27 editorial endorsing the proposal. “It does, however, enable them to buy auto insurance and would require they show they’ve paid Colorado taxes. What could be wrong with that?”
But critics say Colorado has dodged a bullet, pointing to the scenario unfolding in New Mexico, where the legislature approved driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants in 2003. The result has been an explosion of fraud in which criminal rings charge thousands of dollars to assist illegal immigrants from outside New Mexico in obtaining drivers’ licenses.
The immigrants then use their New Mexico licenses to obtain a valid driver’s licenses in their home states. As for insurance, authorities say many illegal immigrants drop their coverage shortly after gaining their licenses and leaving the state.
In June, federal authorities unsealed a multi-state indictment alleging that 30 suspects were running a five-state scheme in which they used fraudulent documents to obtain New Mexico drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants.
New Mexico has issued about 92,000 foreign-national licenses since 2003. Of those, state authorities say only 16,000 license holders filed a state income tax return this year, according to the Associated Press.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez was elected in 2010 in part on the strength of her support for a repeal of the state driver’s license law. New Mexico’s largest newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal, also supports a repeal, but so far bills introduced in the Democrat-controlled legislature have stopped short of the governor’s desk.
After the June indictments, Martinez issued a statement saying that “New Mexico’s driver’s license policy has once again attracted criminal elements to our state in pursuit of a government-issued identification card.”
“Our current system jeopardizes the safety and security of all New Mexicans and it is abundantly clear that the only way to solve this problem is to repeal the law that gives driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants,” said Martinez.
Only two states, New Mexico and Washington, allow non-legal residents to obtain drivers’ licenses. Utah issues drivers permits to illegal immigrants, but stipulates that the permits cannot be used as government identification.