Colorado is home to many undocumented immigrants. These individuals do not have the same opportunity to access a driver’s license as others Coloradans do — despite the passage of legislation that allowed them to obtain a license. This unequal access is because only three of the state’s 36 license branch offices currently provide license services to undocumented immigrants. They are in Denver, Colorado Springs, and Grand Junction. These services will soon be restricted to the Denver office by the spring of 2019. As it is now, these immigrants struggle to schedule an appointment. Each week, 130 appointment slots open, but they are quickly filled and booked out at least three months in all three locations.
Driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants need to be offered at more office locations. This is an important public health and safety issue, and it affects family wellbeing. A driver without a license is less likely to stop if involved in an accident. A citation for driving without a license can mean court fees and other penalties that could hurt the family financially. On the other hand, not driving for lack of a license also could harm families because it limits access to work, community support networks, doctor’s appointments, and so on. The ripple effects are many. Not being able to take sick children to the doctor for treatment or for vaccinations, for example, increases the risk of adverse public health impacts.
Farmers experiencing labor shortages due, in part, to transportation issues among undocumented workers were the main driver of the license program. Allowing undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses ultimately has helped improve local economies because workers now have the means to get to jobs in places without public transportation or where it’s not possible to walk or bike.
The legislature last session recognized the backlog in the license program was an issue and passed an amendment to allow online renewals, but the undocumented immigrant population does not typically have easy access to the internet. Additionally, undocumented immigrants typically feel more comfortable with in-person meetings or appointments.
With the number of offices dropping from three to one in the coming months, it is important to examine how these services can be improved upon. The legislature introduced SB19-139 and it would expand the access of these services to 10 offices in different parts of the state. If the bill does not pass, soon only the Denver office will remain open. Expansion is an important public health and safety issue, and I encourage people to contact their representative and voice their support for SB19-139.
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