Defeated driver's license bill
deserved to be law

February 27 , 2002

Most Reverend José H. Gomez
Auxiliary Bishop of Denver

Colorado Senate Bill 67 died on Valentine's Day in the Senate's Government, Veterans and Military Relations Committee. Its defeat will hurt many good people in our state, and concerned citizens need to hope, pray and work earnestly to ensure that next year, the legislative result will be different.

SB 67 would have allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses. The main arguments in favor of such legislation are well known. They're worth restating one more time, though, so they remain fresh in people's minds. SB 67 may be dead for this year, but the underlying need for it is very much alive.

First, SB 67-style legislation would serve our public safety.

Colorado has a legitimate health and safety interest in licensing those who use its roads. More than 50,000 undocumented immigrants now drive on state roads unlicensed. If a job is at stake — a job that requires driving — a worker who cannot apply for a license will almost certainly drive anyway. And of course, unlicensed drivers are uninsured drivers, which makes them far more likely to flee the scene of an accident.

Second, SB 67-style legislation would aid law enforcement. A driver's license makes it easier to track outstanding warrants, repeat offenders and child support delinquents. It expands the database of fingerprints for crime investigation. It increases the willingness of immigrant witnesses and victims to aid crime investigations. It allows police to deal with traffic violators without becoming embroiled in policy issues. It also relieves police from issuing tickets for which there is no possible resolution. (Immigrants are rarely deported for driving and usually return — unlicensed — to Colorado roads.)

Third, it would not violate federal immigration law. Immigration law places no requirement on states regarding the licensing of drivers. The Immigration and Naturalization Service is not significantly interested in unlicensed drivers; rather, INS priorities focus on serious foreign criminals, terrorists and immigrant smugglers.

Moreover, state driver's licenses are irrelevant to work eligibility, government programs and benefits.

Fourth, it would arguably assist the fight against terrorism. Colorado licenses provide a database of identities including photographs and fingerprints. Excluding large numbers of people from this database could actually work against police efforts

Fifth and finally, it's the right thing to do. No one is a "criminal" for merely being an undocumented immigrant; it's a status with no criminal penalty. In fact, Colorado is host to thousands of working undocumented immigrants — and depends economically on their labor. A driver's license simply allows these people to drive safely and with insurance in Colorado while the U.S. Congress debates future policy on immigration.

Shortly before the recent debate on SB 67, Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote to key members of the State Senate noting that, "SB 67 acknowledges the reality that thousands of good but undocumented immigrant workers live in our state, contribute productively to our economy and deserve the ability to travel safely and with insurance while here. I'm convinced that SB 67 will help improve security on our roads for the whole community, and it will add a very worthwhile element of stability to the lives of immigrant workers and their families."

SB 67 was a bill that urgently deserved to be a law. Both justice and common sense support it. We need to remember that for next year. This is an issue Coloradans can't afford to forget.