AURORA | With less than a month to go before the state starts issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, local immigrants are clamoring to get in line.
More than 700 people attended an informational meeting last week organized by Rights for All People, a local nonprofit that advocates for area immigrants, about the new licenses.
Michele Soli, a spokeswoman for RAP, said the group expected about 400 people would attend the event at Aurora West Middle School. But considering how important a legal driver’s license is, Soli said it makes sense that so many people attended.
“It was also not a surprise because we have known there has been huge interest in the community,” she said.
Last year, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 251, which allows Colorado residents who don’t have United States citizenship or are in the country on a temporary visa or work permit to obtain a driver’s license. Drivers have to pass a written and behind-the-wheel test to get a license, as well as provide identification documents from their home country.
While the licenses allow drivers to legally use the roads and to get insurance, they aren’t the same as the licenses provided to citizens. Written in capital letters in a black stripe across the license is a warning that says “Not valid for federal identification, voting, or public benefit purposes.”
Soli said the licenses are important from a traffic safety standpoint.
“The roads are safer when everybody has a driver’s license and everybody has insurance,” she said.
At least week’s meeting, Aurora police echoed that and encouraged everyone who could get a license to do so.
Immigration advocates also say the licenses can ease fears of deportation among local immigrants who, despite their immigration status, are otherwise law-abiding citizens.
“The fact that there are so many people here tonight really shows the need in the community,” Lizeth Chacón, deputy director of RAP, said in a statement. “There is a need for this new law because expanded access to driver’s licenses will reduce the fear in the immigrant community of getting sent to deportation proceedings for driving without a license.
Still, getting the licenses hasn’t been easy. To get a license or identification card, residents have to set up an appointment through the Colorado Department of Revenue at one of five Department of Motor Vehicles locations around the state.
More than 10,000 people have signed up for appointments, according to the state’s figures, but even with more than 100 appointments available everyday, the appointments have filled up quickly.
“The biggest concern right now is that people aren’t able to get appointments,” Soli said.
Daria Serna, a spokeswoman for the department of revenue, said appointments are set 90 days in advance so while there might not be an appointment available on a particular day, more than 100 will open up the following day. Serna said that as with any program, the DMV will continue to review this one as it
“We treat every program the same,” she said. “We prepare to serve the customers, we continue to review the program and make changes as we go along.”