DENVER– A bill to grant Colorado driver’s licenses and identification cards to illegal immigrants is expected to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate on Friday. Proponents claim that the measure will make the state’s roads safer. Opponents argue it’s a step toward amnesty – and a security risk.
Republicans oppose the bill because it does not require the applicant to provide identification documents with a photo from the country of origin, does not perform a criminal background check prior to issuing a license or ID, and the state-issued license or ID may not comply with federal government regulations.
Sen. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Commerce City) said that undocumented immigrants have been forced to drive illegally because they’ve been denied driver’s licenses. This bill, Ulibarri said, will grant legal licenses, end the use of fraudulent licenses and reduce the number of hit-and-run accidents.
Senate Bill 251, sponsored by Ulibarri, Senate President John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) and Rep. Jovan Melton (D-Aurora), would allow for the issuance of driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants who produce evidence of residency in Colorado, and pass the written and driving tests administered by the state.
If the bill is passed and signed into law, an estimated 60,000 illegal immigrants living in Colorado will be able to apply for an ID, license or driver’s learner permit in 2014.
“I think the appropriate title would be The Colorado Amnesty Act,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud). “It is providing the means to be legal, at least on the road driving, when the individual is, in fact, not here legally.”
“It’s a major step toward amnesty,” declared Lundberg.
“This does not confer or infer citizenship,” insisted Ulibarri.
The bill would require illegal immigrant ID and driver’s license applicants to provide one of the following the forms of identification: a passport, consular identification card or military document from the country of origin.
Applicants would also have to produce a certified copy from the Colorado Department of Revenue of having paid taxes in the previous year, and proof of a federal tax ID number or Social Security number.
Ulibarri said those requirements are more stringent than the three other states that grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.
The bill initially stated that “NONCITIZEN” would be printed on the license – a distinction that offended the bill’s supporters. That label was changed to “Not REAL-ID Compliant” because Ulibarri said that would satisfy the requirements of the Homeland Security Act.
This week, the language changed again to state the Colorado-issued ID card or driver’s license is not valid federal identification to vote, obtain benefits or board airplanes.
Ulibarri said the statement was crafted by working with the staffs of Gov. John Hickenlooper and Attorney General John Suthers to ensure compliance with the federal REAL-ID Act enforced by Homeland Security. The Act was adopted after 9/11 terrorists had obtained legal driver’s licenses to gain access to airliners.
With the 9/11 terrorist attack in mind, Sen. Ted Harvey (R-Highlands Ranch) introduced an amendment to require fingerprints and security background checks for illegal immigrants applying for licenses.
Without a security check, Harvey argued that the state could be issuing licenses or ID cards to sex traffickers, drug dealers, murderers, rapists and other felons.
Ulibarri said criminal background checks aren’t necessary because applicants would give a fingerprint when the ID or driver’s license is issued, and that would entered into the state and national databases.
“So we’re going to give those criminals a pass because if they do it again, then we’ll take away their license?” asked Harvey.