ID Confusion In Colorado

Republican Governor Owen’s administration, who sought and obtained new ID requirements in special session this spring, has now made, a third change in ID requirements for people seeking state services this summer.

The new rule allows people seeking services from state agencies to uses a state ID or driver’s license, which don’t prove citizenship, but forbids applicants at any agency but the driver’s license bureau from using a birth certificate, which is proof of citizenship.  Yet, for most people who lack a passport and have citizenship by birth, a birth certificate is their only valid means of proving of U.S. citizenship.Different Kinds of Documents

U.S. born citizens

Native born American citizens can prove their citizenship through a birth certificate or passport.  A valid social security card proves legal right to work, and is thus permitted for employment verification, but does not establish U.S. citizenship.

Estimates of the percentage of Americans who have passports vary from about 7% to 34%.  The highest credible estimate I have seen is 34% of adults, and there is every reason to believe that state residents applying for assistance from state agencies are less likely than the general population to have a passport.

At least 55%-82% of U.S. born, U.S. citizen Colorado residents, and an even larger share of those applying for state agency assistance, have no valid means of proving their citizenship other than a birth certificate.

Foreign Born Persons

About 9.7% of Colorado residents are foreign born

About 3% of Colorado residents are citizens by naturalization, and thus, have naturalization papers to prove citizenship. 

About 3% of Colorado residents are legally documented immigrants.  Legally documented immigrants, generally lawful permanent residents, have their own immigration papers and qualify for some, but not all, state agency benefits.

About 4% of Colorado residents are undocumented immigrants.  Some have fake documents (often birth certificates or social security cards, and sometimes driver’s licenses or state IDs), while some have valid documents that don’t prove citizenship, like an older driver’s license or matricular consular document.  Some have no ID at all.

Government IDs

In Colorado, state law requires that a driver’s license not be issued to someone “whose presence in the United States is in violation of federal immigration law.”  Section 42-2-104(3)(e), Colorado Revised Statutes. 

Applicants are also required to be residents of Colorado who are old enough to drive and are who they claim to be.  Section 42-2-107, Colorado Revised Statues.

Proof of citizenship or legal immigration status has been required in Colorado since, at least, 1994, and driver’s licenses for adults generally last ten years, although some license holders have been allowed to renew by mail, or based on driver’s licenses from other states with less strict requirements, for much of this time period.  Many people who have state IDs or driver’s licenses didn’t have to present a birth certificate or passport or similar documents to obtain that identification.

A driver’s license is not proof of citizenship, or even of a right to employment.  Anyone with a visa allowing, at least, temporary residence in the United States, is eligible for a driver’s license.  Some visas allow the holder to be in the United States for a prolonged period, but do not give the holder an unrestricted ability to work.  For example, many student and dependent visas have this character.

If someone was lawfully in the United States on, for example, a student visa or H1-B high tech worker’s visa that later expired, that person could still have a valid Colorado driver’s license, because they were lawfully in the United States at the time the license was issued.  This is possible even with the verification requirements of the special session.

Contrary to popular impression, not all undocumented immigrants enter the United States by wading through the Rio Grande, walking across barren Southwestern deserts and then being delivered to a U.S. destination hidden in a van or truck or car trunk. 

Many undocumented immigrants entered the United States on visas that expired or have since been revoked.  About half of undocumented immigrants entered the United States this way.  Many who did so may also have been eligible to obtain a valid Colorado ID or driver’s license.

As a result, a driver’s license does not established citizenship, legal immigrant status, or a right to work in the United States, a fact well known to anyone who has ever completed the federal form I-9 which requires proof of citizenship for employment purposes.  A driver’s license proves your identity, and the photo prevents it from being used by someone else, in theory, but not your citizenship status.

State ID requirements are similar, except that they don’t require proof of eligibility to drive.  Section 42-2-302, Colorado Revised Statutes.  Social security numbers or an affidavit that one does not have a social security number, is required to obtain one.  The citizenship standard of a state ID is that one is “lawfully present in the United States” and “a resident of the state of Colorado.”

Merchant Marine and Indian tribe IDs are not relevant to many Coloradans outside of Indian Reservations, who don’t already have driver’s licenses or a state IDs as well, although they are permitted as substitute identifications under the laws passed in the special session.

A Regulation That Defeates Itself

Governor Owen’s asked the legislature for urgent authority to impliment new identification requirements in a special session.  Now, his administration is confused.

It was the third time in a month the ID requirements were changed.

Under the most recent version of the regulations, only DMV accepts birth certificates and passports, which are only fundamental way to prove citizenship by birth, while other state agencies accept only ID such as a Colorado driver’s license or state ID, which does not currently establish citizenship or even currently valid immigration status or a right to work in the United States.

It is easier to create a fake birth certificate (which could appear to be from any U.S. jurisdiction) and/or a fake Social Security card, than it is to create a fake driver’s license. 

But, does it really make sense to substitute a requirement to present a valid document which may not mean what policy makers appear to believe that it does, for a document that does prove what is intended but is more easily faked?

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