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Undocumented immigrants line up to get new Colorado driver's licenses, ID cards

July 17, 2014 Updated: July 17, 2014 at 10:20 pm
photo - An example of a Colorado driver's license that will be available for undocumented immigrants beginning Aug. 1.
An example of a Colorado driver's license that will be available for undocumented immigrants beginning Aug. 1. 

The chance to drive legally and obtain a driving permit or identification card has undocumented immigrants lining up around the state.

The Colorado Road and Community Safety Act, signed into law in June 2013, goes into effect Aug. 1.

It allows residents who cannot demonstrate lawful presence in the country the opportunity to get a license, register a car and, subsequently, buy insurance - as long as they provide all of the required documents.

As of July 10, nearly 10,000 people across the state had scheduled appointments to obtain these special driver's licenses, which will have a black strip across the top that reads "Not for federal identification, voting or public benefit purposes," the Colorado Department of Revenue said. Appointments are booked through October.

"What we're trying to get out, now that people have scheduled appointments, is 'make sure you're prepared,'?" Department of Revenue spokeswoman Daria Serna said. "We would like these appointments to be effective and efficient."

To handle the influx of appointments and implement the program, the Department of Revenue added four full-time employees and 13 temporary employees.

Serna said workshops are planned for the next two months to help people understand the process and the documents they must bring to the appointments. Documents that prove name, identity, date of birth and Colorado residency will be required.

The program is meant to be self-supported, according to the Department of Revenue, and there will be additional fees for cards issued under the program. The fee for a driver's license is $50.50. The cost for an identification card is $14. Both will be valid for three years after being issued, according to the Department of Revenue.

Acceptable identification documents include passports, consular identification cards or military identification documents from their country of origin. All documents will be accepted up to 10 years after they have expired.

The weeks leading up to the Aug. 1 rollout are about preparation and education, Serna said.

Four driver's license workshops were scheduled this month in the Denver area, and more workshops are in the works for other areas of the state, she said.

"It's really about teaching them what we all go through to get a driver's license and what additional documents they need to get," Serna said.

The division has been inundated with calls and website visits since July 1, when five Department of Motor Vehicle offices around the state began taking appointments for Aug. 1 and later.

The Division of Motor Vehicles schedules appointments 90 days out.

The Colorado Springs office at 2446 N. Union Blvd., along with the four other offices authorized to provide the licenses, are booked through the end of October. Each day, 123 more spots open up statewide, including 31 spots for the Colorado Springs office.

Office employees are undergoing training this month.

"They are going to be viewing documents that they normally have not viewed before," Serna said.

Those include documents applicants must bring to prove Colorado residency for the past 24 months, including but not limited to: utility bills, lease agreements, medical records, report cards from an accredited school, a renter's or homeowner's insurance policy and a bank statement.

Applicants must sign an affidavit stating that they are residents of the state and provide proof of a Colorado tax return filing.

Alternatively, they can provide an Individual Taxpayer Identification number and sign an affidavit stating they have or will apply soon for lawful presence in the country. Tax numbers are issued by the Internal Revenue Service regardless of immigration status. Under the Internal Revenue code, undocumented residents may file U.S. tax returns.

Many of them do, said Corey Almond, vice president of Family Immigration Services for Catholic Charities in Colorado, which offers workshops and services designed to help refugees and immigrants learn English and understand laws, rights and school systems.

"The immigrants we work with want to show that they're law abiding in every way that they can," Almond said.

He believes a significant number of people in the Colorado Springs community would be eligible for the license documents under the law and said it will also alleviate fear within this population. Immigration and traffic attorney Eric Pavri agrees.

"If you don't have a license, you're very afraid of any interaction with the police," Pavri said.

"Many thousands of people in Colorado have been deported for breaking no state crime other than driving without a license," he said.

Pavri said that happens less frequently than it once did because immigration authorities have shifted their focus to people who commit violent crimes.

"Most people would jump at the opportunity to do things the right way, they just haven't had a chance yet," Pavri said. "That's very much my perspective on immigration on a whole."

More than benefiting Colorado's immigrant residents, he said, it will also benefit the community as a whole through increasing public safety.

"If people are here anyway, if they're driving anyway, I would rather them get a test and drive safely," he said.

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