A new law providing more locations in Colorado for people in the country illegally to obtain a driver’s license will make roads safer for everyone, said Matt Karkut, executive director of local immigration advocacy group Compañeros.
Safety is just one of the reasons why Compañeros is assisting immigrants without U.S. identification to understand the process of obtaining a driver’s license, the requirements for obtaining one and where they can be issued, Karkut said.
Karkut said he’s looking for volunteers to help immigrants through the process of acquiring a driver’s license. Anyone interested may visit companeros.org and submit a comment through the contact form. A Compañeros staff member will reach out.
The concept isn’t new, it’s just expanded, Karkut said. Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, who represents Southwest Colorado and sponsored the bill, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A 2013 law gave immigrants without U.S. identification in Colorado the right to apply for a driver’s license, but the only places people without legal residency in Colorado could obtain a license were Lakewood, Grand Junction and Colorado Springs, all of which are more than three hours from Durango and at least one mountain pass away.
Moreover, the 2013 law limited the number of new licenses that could be issued per office. Lakewood’s office could schedule 78 first-time application appointments each day, and the Grand Junction and Colorado Springs offices could schedule 26 first-time application appointments.
Karkut said people in Southwest Colorado who want to schedule a Department of Motor Vehicle appointment have to be fast. Appointments are open for scheduling 90 days in advance, and if someone isn’t ready to reserve an appointment the minute it becomes available, it’s gone. The limited availability of locations and opportunities to receive a driver’s license led to a black market for DMV appointments, Karkut said.
There are likely about 200 people in the five-county region who might be interested in taking advantage of the new program, Karkut said. The problem is that many of the people who want a driver’s license can’t reach a location where they are available because they can’t legally drive or find someone to drive them. Karkut said he’s worked with about a half dozen people in the past few years who have missed an appointment for one reason or another.
The new law will expand the number of locations where people without proper identification can apply for a driver’s license, including Southwest Colorado. Adding more licensed drivers to the road could ensure more people who are driving know the rules of the road, lower insurance premiums by reducing the number of uninsured drivers on the road and encourage people without a legal status to contact emergency services – something they may be fearful to do if they don’t have a proper driver’s license, Karkut said.
The requirements for someone without proper U.S. identification are exhaustive, Karkut said. Anyone in the country without permission must show some form of identity that proves their foreign status – like an ID from another country; an individual tax identification number to prove they’re participating in the community; and documents that show they have lived in Colorado for at least two years, such as tax returns.
“It can be a bit of a complicated process,” Karkut said. “You have to be a person living in Colorado, contributing to community here, paying taxes. You’ve got to be an upstanding citizen to get one.”