Immigrant driver’s license overhaul passes House

Colorado’s driver’s license program for undocumented immigrants is one step closer to a much-needed overhaul.

The House passed a proposal Monday to double the number of DMVs offering licenses to undocumented immigrants from three to six and to increase staff at these locations.

Lawmakers hope the measure will put an end to the impossibly long wait times immigrants must endure in order to make DMV appointments — waits that have resulted in black market scams.

Related: Long lines and scams plague immigrant driver’s license program

“The restored staffing at the six offices ensures that [these] license do not take capacity away from other DMV services,” said Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont), one of the bill’s sponsors.

In theory, the state has offered driver’s licenses to undocumented Colorado residents. The program began in 2013 and made Colorado one of the first states to offer such a service.

But Republican opposition led to the withholding of funds for the program, which is intended to operate without tapping into taxpayer money.

Related: A small win for immigrant driver’s license program

Without adequate funding, the program soon became plagued by long lines and a shortage of appointments. Those seeking licenses typically wait several months to secure appointments, and even then often resort to paying black market prices to do so.

Though most Republicans still condemn the program, state law enforcement agencies have publicly supported the practice of giving licenses to all drivers, regardless of immigration status. New Mexico and Utah both saw reductions in traffic fatalities after successfully implementing similar programs.

For the proposal’s proponents, the time for debate is over. The state has already ruled that undocumented immigrants have the right to obtain licenses, and now it’s time to make that right a possibility.

“We believe that all residents of Colorado should have the opportunity to access a license or an ID,” said immigrant rights activist Jennifer Piper of the American Friends Service Committee.

“Falling short of the promise of law is not what we’re about in Colorado,” she said.

Photo credit: Yamanaka Tamaki, Flickr creative commons