Poor planning has hurt the roll out of Colorado’s new immigrant driver’s license program—known as the Colorado Road and Community Safety Act (CRSA)—which allows undocumented persons residing in Colorado to obtain “restricted” state identification documents. It also subjects non-legal permanent residents to the same type of restricted license. In addition, discrepancies in past ID document applications could result in some applicants facing criminal charges, but the current lack of published regulations creates risk and further uncertainty surrounding the process.
Senate Bill 251 passed the Colorado State Legislature in 2013 and took effect on August 1, 2014. State officials say the law as a matter of public safety. It allows drivers licenses to be issued to individuals not lawfully present in the U.S. In theory, drivers who have passed driving tests will be not only be safer, but more likely to obtain insurance. And for those living in Colorado without documentation, having a license reduces fears that being pulled over will result in possible deportation.
But in practice, over-subscription, under-funding and glitches have led to a denial rate of 40% through mid-September. According to the LA Times, from the law’s August 1 roll out through October 10th, only 8,000 appointments were successfully made, while only about 6,700 people have been issued licenses, learner’s permits and ID cards. It is estimated that 150,000 undocumented Colorado residents are eligible for the program, but only 155 appointments at five participating state DMV offices (in Denver, Aurora, Colorado Springs, Ft. Collins and Grand Junctions) per day mean demand for licenses far outpaces supply.
“The reality is that many people are going to have to wait for years,” fellow Denver immigration attorney Hans Meyer told the Times. “It’s like they are trying to force a fire hose worth of demand through a garden hose worth of supply.”
Many of the program’s initial problems can be attributed to officials’ underestimating how many undocumented Colorado residents would seek licenses. Also the lack of funding has also contributed to the bottleneck of applicants. The bill’s original proposal called for $855,686 for implementation but this amount was reduced to $436,291.
But other issues show how the program’s issues are about more than just numbers. In September, a computer glitch caused more than 500 invalid licenses to be mailed to nonresident drivers who defied the odds by managing to navigate the complicated application process. They were asked by the state to return the faulty licenses.
For nonresidents who submitted a prior Colorado license application using false or fabricated ID documents, there is a risk even greater than being denied a license: possible felony prosecution for using false information or lying to a public officer. If the DMV uncovers suspicious matches or discrepancies associated with Social Security numbers or past ID documents, it may eventually refer the applicant to a county District Attorney’s office for criminal investigation.
The DMV has said it will handle such fraud investigations on a “case by case basis.” So the actual risk of criminal prosecution remains uncertain. Anyone with concerns related to prior license applications or driving privilege status should speak with a criminal attorney before submitting an application under the Colorado Road and Community Safety Act.
You may schedule a consultation with Boulder and Denver immigration attorney Catherine Brown to assist with non-criminal DMV questions or processing by calling 303-322-2117 or contacting us online.