EDITORIAL: Illegal immigrants get a license to drive Colorado policy toward reality

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While Congress is lost in the wilderness of political delusion regarding immigration policy, Colorado is driving policy closer to reality.

Gov. Jared Polis this week signed into law a Colorado measure that allows non-citizens, including illegal immigrants, more places to apply for and get a Colorado driver’s license.

Predictably, critics of the measure said it only rewards illegal immigration and further entrenches undocumented residents into the community. The ability to get these licenses isn’t new, but they were severely limited because of efforts by critics, who tried to throttle the program.

Arguments like that dismiss the reality of our world with all the practicality of past conservatives insisting America’s drug addiction problems could be solved by telling citizens to “just say no.”

The Pew Research Center estimates that about 4 percent of Colorado’s population are violating U.S. immigration law. That means about 200,000 people across the state flout immigration rules, more than half of them here in the metro area.

If only half of those people are over 15, it means that there are at least 50,000 people in the metro area that could be driving without a license.

Since until relatively recently Colorado has refused to issue driver licenses to undocumented immigrants, it’s safe to say that withholding licenses has done nothing to curb illegal immigration.

What it has done is allow people to drive on Colorado roads who are either unqualified, because they haven’t passed a driver-license test, or without insurance.

Not having a license leads to undocumented immigrants running from even minor car accidents in fear of being handed over to immigration officials if police arrive.

What the new law addresses is the reality in the Aurora metro area by insisting that anyone driving here be licensed and insured. That’s just common sense and good policy.

It’s that same logic that should be, but isn’t, driving the nation’s immigration problem. Official estimate that of the approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country, about 1 million of them are either participants in the country’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or could be.

These people were brought to the United States as children, illegally, and grew up here. Realistically, they’re American citizens. They went to school here, often work here. They pay taxes here, but they don’t have citizenship credentials.

The reality of the situation for most of these people is that they have no home but the United States. Besides being inhumane and outright cruel to deport these kids and adolescents, it’s unrealistic to see such deportations as anything else.

Despite that, years have gone by without Congress being able to address at least that part of the thorny immigration debate.

It seems nearly hopeless to think that this Congress could take on more complex issues surrounding immigration, simply because President Donald Trump and Republican leaders in the House and Senate refuse to legislate on the reality of the nation’s immigration problem, rather than political idealism.

Building a border wall is unrealistic and will do nothing to control illegal immigration because the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants got here through legal ports, on planes or other legitimate ways.

Realistically, we cannot search for illegal immigrants, round them up and ship them out for a host of reasons, top among them, we need these immigrants for our already too-thin labor pool. Critically, it is virtually impossible to round up 11 million people, herd them up internment camp style and send them, where?

Handing out driver’s licenses to qualified immigrants addresses a Colorado problem realistically. We need that same approach to find ways to ensure everyone who lives here obeys the laws, pays taxes and is treated honorably and respectfully.

We can do that in a variety of ways. But we must first elect a president and representatives in Congress willing to debate and enact practical ways to address the immigration problem, rather than pursue populist pandering to racists and nationalists, which for the last few decades, has gotten us absolutely nowhere.