A campaign to push a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's license in Colorado is underway, and it could get introduced in the state legislature in less than 30 days.
Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Commerce City, is considering sponsoring the bill known as Initiative 52 and has already begun reaching out to other states that have passed similar measures to learn what is working well and what is not.
"What I have heard resoundingly clear is that there is no harm in this legislation, only benefits, from a law enforcement perspective," Ulibarri said. "As a matter of public safety it's important for police to be able to identify suspects, victims and the public quickly. The system we have now doesn't facilitate that."
Colorado is one of a handful of states that may consider this year a change to stop requiring citizenship documents to obtain a driver's license. Other states that have introduced bills this year are California and Indiana.
Currently, Washington, New Mexico and Illinois allow undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver's license.
Some states including North Carolina and Connecticut, have announced they will soon start offering licenses to young undocumented immigrants who have already been granted deferred action status. But Colorado is not one of those states, said Ro Silva, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Revenue.
Colorado barred undocumented immigrants from obtaining a driver's license in 1999.
If introduced and then passed, the new law would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's license by presenting a copy of state tax returns, a federal tax identification number and proof of identity from their country of residence. In addition, they would have to pass their driving tests and pay a fee as everybody else.
Those are already more requirements than other states have required for undocumented immigrants getting licenses.
"We're having a different conversation that focuses on doing the right things and doing them well," Ulibarri said. "We're making sure people are paying their taxes and identifying themselves correctly to law enforcement. We're trying to encourage people to do everything right."
In order to make Initiative 52 effective, the bill needs to go through a series of committees before it makes it to the Colorado Senate, where it would need a majority of the 35 votes. Then, it would require another majority of 65 votes in the House of Representatives.
Ignacio Ramirez, a volunteer with the Driver's Licenses for All committee, said that the impact of the Hispanic vote in the past presidential elections was a boost for pushing the new proposition now.
Ramirez also emphasized the economic benefit for the state, should the legislature change its anti-immigrant attitude towards undocumented drivers steering the wheel across Colorado roads.
Based on Hispanic Pew Center estimates of undocumented immigrants in Colorado, organizers say there are about 150,000 undocumented immigrants in Colorado that would qualify to apply for a driver's license.
At a fee of $50, which may be negotiable in legislative discussions, the state could bring in an extra $7.5 million into the economy, Ramirez said.
And that is just with fees for purchasing the license. More revenues would come in the form of car registrations, license plates, car sales and everything that comes with owning a car.
Ramirez said he believes the economy would also receive a boost with the change since undocumented immigrants would feel more comfortable driving into the mountains and contributing to the tourism in Colorado.
Both Ulibarri and Ramirez said they have started to see public support from people who identify with different political parties.
"If the federal level is any indication, we will see more bipartisan support," Ulibarri said.
Ramirez said they have support from immigrant rights groups, the Archdiocese of Denver, 60 other Christian and evangelical churches and from around 300 business owners.
Immigrant advocates have also heard support from police chiefs in the metro area, but are planning to sit down with associations soon to see if they can earn public support from the law enforcement community.
Public safety benefits could improve by ensuring that more people who are driving have passed a driver's test and actually know the rules of the road, Ramirez said.
For more information about the campaign, visit licenciasparatodos.com