Alejandra Avila, a junior at the University of Northern Colorado, thinks allowing illegal immigrants to apply for and get a Colorado driver’s license would make for safer roads, but Weld County Republican lawmakers remain opposed to the idea.
“It’s better for everyone. Roads would be safer,” said Avila, 20.
The proposal got initial approval in the Senate on Wednesday when it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 3-2 party-line vote, with Democrats in favor. The proposal still needs to be approved by the full Senate.
The measure would allow taxpaying immigrants with a legal ID from their home country to apply for a Colorado driver’s license. Supporters of the bill introduced by Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Commerce City, say that everyone would benefit if drivers who are currently unlicensed learn the rules of the road and get insurance.
Taxpaying immigrants would be eligible if they pass the driver safety test and pay a $41 fee to get a driver’s license, register cars and buy car insurance. County sheriffs support the bill. The licenses would have “noncitizen” printed on the back of the licenses, and some supporters of the bill are upset about that because of possible discrimination.
Avila, who grew up in Commerce City and is an education major studying to be a Spanish teacher, said there was some pushback from people concerned about illegal immigrants being allowed to have a driver’s license.
“We say, ‘What do you prefer? Getting in a car crash, and them running away because they don’t have the right papers in order to be face to face with you? Or do you want that immigrant to have those papers and insurance and they be liable for that car crash?’ It’s just better for everyone to be safer,” Avila said. “They have to take a test like everyone else, they have to buy insurance and have an ID to give to police officers.”
Republicans argue the bill goes too far and that state lawmakers should wait for action by the federal government.
Rep. Stephen Humphrey, R-Severance, said he’s going to take a closer look at the bill, but he has some concerns.
“I’m sympathetic with what they’re trying to do, but I’m just concerned about the whole immigration thing,” Humphrey said. “It’s such a difficult situation. I’m really hoping they get something sorted out on the federal level, and I’m just reluctant to do all these little things on the state level.”
Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, is not in favor of the bill.
“I think it’s a step in the wrong direction,” Renfroe said. “We don’t need to be giving Colorado state-issued diver’s licenses to people who are here illegally. I think it’s poor policy, and it’s obvious that it’s disrespecting the laws of our state, and it’s encouraging more people to break the laws to come here. This plays right into the category, in my mind, of extreme left.”
Renfroe said he thinks it’s going to call into question all sorts of issues where a driver’s license is needed.
“You’re encouraging more illegal activity by doing this,” Renfroe said.
Pilar Carrillo, who is from Mexico City and has lived in the U.S. for 14 years, is the spokeswoman for the campaign in favor of the bill. She said the benefits of the bill would be safer roads because drivers would know the rules of the road, better accident outcomes because drivers would more likely to stay at the scene to help police and paramedics, as well as exchange insurance information, and decreases in insurance rates due to fewer uninsured motorist costs.
“It is important because it will benefit everyone in Colorado,” said Pilar in a telephone interview Wednesday. “It is very important to have safer streets and safer communities in our state. This issue is about safety. We have the support of a lot of people.”
New Mexico, Illinois, and Washington currently allow driver’s licenses for those illegally in the country. Utah grants immigrants a driving permit that can’t be used for identification.
— The Associated Press contributed to this story.