With an election-year backdrop, immigration advocates are reviving an effort to boost the beleaguered Colorado program that provides driver's licenses to residents living the country illegally.
Democratic lawmakers unveiled plans
Wednesday to expand the controversial program to as many as 30 driver's license offices and crack down on reports of fraud caused by the months-long backlog for immigrants.
The legislation faces a difficult road in the split General Assembly, as Republican opponents who blocked expansion efforts a year ago remain firmly opposed. But the push gives advocates the ability to paint a bright line between the political parties when it comes to a key issue in the Latino community.
"I hope this is something that we can do working together," said state Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Longmont Democrat helping to lead the effort. "It's hard to say, though, when you hear rhetoric in the Republican primaries from people like Donald Trump saying that he wants to round up people and send them back. I think it's important that people understand that there are politicians who care about them and respect them."
The current program issues immigrant driver's licenses at three Division of Motor Vehicles offices through an appointment system with about 90 slots a day.
Thousands wait months, if not years, for an appointment in a state with an estimated 150,000 residents living in the country illegally. And reports of scams are drawing increased attention.
A partisan budget fight in 2015 cut the program's original five locations to just one until lawmakers were able to strike a deal to operate offices in Denver, Grand Junction and Colorado Springs.
Sen. Kent Lambert, the top Republican budget writer, said it's a contentious issue and he's not interested in expanding the program. "I'm personally satisfied with where we are right now," he said.
The long wait times are only expected to get worse in 2017 when the state hits a trigger in the law that reduces the number of locations to one after the program issues 66,000 licenses.
The bill Singer is drafting would eliminate the cap and streamline the process by allowing applicants to use a social security number for identification. The measure also would authorize the program to spend more fee revenue to add offices, which could eventually number about 30 across the state.
In addition, Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, is preparing legislation to address fraud reports by toughing related criminal laws. Both bills are expected to be introduce in coming days.
The two dozen immigration advocates who rallied with Democratic lawmakers at the Capitol called on Republicans to drop their opposition.
"We should not be making it as hard as possible for an immigrant to get a license, but rather as easy as it is for the rest of us," said Rev. Wayne Laws from United Church of Christ of Aurora. "It's time to quit playing politics and using immigrants as political pawns."