Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) signed a bill on Tuesday that would give all state residents access to driver’s licenses and identification cards, regardless of their immigration status.
Under the Colorado Road and Community Safety Act, also known as SB 139, driver’s licenses will be made available to all state residents at ten Department of Motor Vehicles offices by July 2020.
Three offices in the state currently offer them to all state residents. Those three offices began issuing licenses in 2014 and since then, more than 61,000 licenses have been issued to undocumented immigrants. State residents pay for the licenses in fees that are higher than what is required for U.S. citizens and the money goes towards programs to make the roads safer as well as Colorado’s agriculture industry.
Expanding licenses to nearly a dozen more DMV offices would allow thousands of undocumented immigrants who work and raise families in Colorado to live out of the shadows.
“No matter where you come from you should be able to drive to work and take your kids to school without fear,” state Sen. Dominick Moreno (D) said Tuesday.
Eleven other states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, have all passed laws that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Wisconsin and New York are currently considering similar legislation.
Driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants is a policy issue that has often united both Republicans and Democrats. Most state law enforcement officials have endorsed the laws from a public safety standpoint, arguing that state roads will be safer once all residents are required to take a driving test.
Multiple studies have demonstrated the efficacy of these laws resulting in safer roads. A 2019 study on Connecticut, which first allowed undocumented immigrants in the state to obtain driver’s licenses four years ago, found the law has contributed to an overall reduction in the number of hit-and-run crashes and the number of people found guilty of unlicensed driving. A 2017 study out of California also found the number of hit-and-runs declined.since the state assembly passed a bill in 2015 permitting some 850,000 undocumented immigrants to drive with a license.
This reduction is likely due to the fact that before these kinds of bills were passed, unlicensed drivers had an incentive to leave the scene of the crash for fear of being deported or having their car impounded. Now that they are licensed and police officers theoretically won’t question them about their immigration status, they are less likely to be afraid.
It also would help law enforcement officers build trust with members of the immigrant community, who rightfully fear any interaction with police departments. Every day occurrences like a routine traffic stops would no longer mean a potential deportation or months long stay in a detention center.
“Police officers work tirelessly every day in our state to establish meaningful relationships founded on trust, however we often encounter people who are fearful of any interaction with law enforcement because of their immigration status,” Madison Police Chief Mike Koval wrote in a letter to Wisconsin state legislators in March. “We believe this proposal will help to eliminate this fear that impedes our efforts to build trust and relationships with our undocumented residents.”