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No Path for SSNs: Measure to Extend Colorado Driving Privileges to Undocumented Residents Stalled in Senate Committee Vote — Again.

April 27, 2017|Contributed by: Jennifer Howard

Under current state law, a Colorado resident who cannot provide proof of lawful presence in the United States can make an appointment* with the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to obtain a “special” Colorado driver’s license, permit, or identification (ID) card. These licenses, permits, and ID cards are not valid for federal identification purposes or for obtaining any voting rights or public benefits conferred by the government, and they must be renewed every 3 years.

However, whether by lack of foresight or by intent, the statute contains no language regarding SSNs. Thus, the law as written has the effect of preventing residents who cannot prove lawful presence but who also hold valid Social Security Numbers (SSNs) from obtaining any type of license or permit to drive in the state of Colorado. Colorado residents impacted by this loophole may include, but are not limited to, certain out-of-status temporary workers, international students, recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and those formerly in non-immigrant status who have previously been issued work authorization and an SSN by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as well as certain immigrants who received SSNs prior to the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act and, if the program is ever terminated, recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status.

As written, the law requires undocumented residents to provide Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) issued by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to obtain this special license. Under this law, the DMV also requires applicants to provide:

  • Proof of identity, in English;
  • Proof of Colorado residency; and
  • A signed affidavit confirming a pending application or an intent to apply for lawful status or U.S. citizenship.

To close the gap and to allow persons with valid SSNs to be eligible for a special license, Colorado General Assembly Representative Jonathan Singer (D-Boulder) and State Senator Jessie Ulibarri (D-Adams) sponsored a bill during the 2016 legislative session. The bill also proposed additional funding for DMV offices to process applications for special licenses, after the number of offices handling this type of license decreased from 5 to only 3 in 2015. That bill passed in the Assembly by a 3-point margin (34-31), holding fast to party lines, but then stalled in the Senate Committee on State, Veterans, and Military Affairs and was postponed indefinitely by a vote of 2-3 in Committee on May 4, 2016.

Then, this year, Representative Singer (D-Boulder) sponsored a similar measure, this time with bipartisan sponsorship, which if passed would have had the same effect as the 2016 measure.  He was joined this time in sponsorship by Representative Jeni James Arndt (D-Larimer), Senator Dominick Moreno (D-Adams), and Senator Don Coram (R-Montrose). The latest bill’s description points out that, “[c]urrently, a person who is not lawfully present in the United States may obtain a driver’s license or identification card if certain requirements are met [and that] [o]ne of the requirements is that the person present a taxpayer identification card.”  The proposed bill, the description reads, “[would allow] a social security number to also meet this requirement.”  If passed, it also would have appropriated $216,000 in funding to the department of revenue from the licensing services cash fund to implement the bill and to support licensing offices in issuing these licenses.

Currently, only 3 DMV offices in the state—Lakewood, Grand Junction, and Colorado Springs—accept a total of 90 appointments per day for those who hold valid ITINs and cannot prove lawful presence. If no legislative action is taken to allocate additional funding, this number will likely be reduced to 1 after the number of licenses issued reaches the statutory threshold. Notably, funding for these licenses and for the administrative support needed to issue them at state DMVs comes from the already higher-priced application fees paid for the special licenses, not from Colorado taxpayers.

Certainly, the latest incarnation of this special driver’s license proposal seemed much more promising out of the gate, entering the arena with bipartisan support and securing a 40-23 passage in the Assembly—a significantly wider margin than last session. However, this week, the proposal hit a stop again in Committee as it did in 2016, this time with the Senate Committee on Transportation who voted to postpone the measure indefinitely, again by a 2-3 vote.

This loophole in the writing of the licensing statute directly affects tens of thousands of Coloradans, and there is nothing that we as attorneys can do to help our clients caught in this loophole until the law is changed by the legislature. Even though this should be a bipartisan issue at the very least due to its benefits for driver safety and accountability, the votes have been split almost evenly down party lines both times legislators have tried to close the gap, with only four Republican representatives voting for the passage of the latest proposal in the Assembly and all 23 ‘no’ votes being cast by Republican representatives.

In an interview with the Denver Post earlier this year, supporters of the special license and the related proposal to expand the window to include persons with SSNs argued that extending driving privileges and the ability to purchase automobile insurance to the tens of thousands of residents who fall under this category:

  • Ensures greater safety and accountability among undocumented drivers by requiring a comprehensive driver’s test and Colorado car insurance;
  • Prevents routine traffic stops from escalating gratuitously into deportation proceedings;
  • Allows newly licensed drivers to complete tasks like driving to work or taking their kids to school without fear; and
  • Makes the roads safer for all drivers throughout the state.

In the same interview, Republican legislators who oppose the measures argued that the law allows people who are here illegally to obtain government identification that they should not be allowed to possess. However, current law already allows licenses, permits, and IDs for undocumented residents, and the only significant change to the law would be the expansion of that eligibility to those holding valid SSNs.

In January 2017, supporters in Colorado Springs marched in protest of how difficult it has been for anyone to obtain these special licenses due primarily to the shortage of offices handling them and the resulting long delays in securing appointments for these licenses. The immigrant rights group, “I Drive Colorado,” also held a rally on Denver’s Capitol steps in January to voice their right to Colorado licenses, permits, and ID cards. Measures to expand driving privileges and ID cards to all undocumented immigrants have been supported in recent years not only by “I Drive,” but also by the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC), the Colorado People’s Alliance (COPA), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado. What happens down the road is to be seen, but this is not an issue that is likely to disappear into the fog.

If you are eligible for a special Colorado license, permit, or ID card, you may make an appointment with the DMV by following the instructions on their website at https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/dmv/node/48731/ or by calling them at (303) 205-2335. If you need at ITIN number, visit http://www.irs.gov to obtain the Form W-7 and for more information; if you already have a valid SSN, then you are not eligible for an ITIN and you will not be able to obtain a Colorado driver’s license, permit, or ID card at this time. Joseph Law Firm, PC, intends to post a follow-up on our blog if and when the law changes to extend driving and ID privileges to persons with SSNs.

*Any person who has falsified documents or used a “fake” SSN, ITIN, driver’s license, permit, or ID may be subject to criminal charges and should consult with an immigration attorney before applying for a Colorado license, permit, or ID card under the law currently in place.

If you are already a client of Joseph Law Firm and you are concerned about your eligibility for a Colorado driver’s license, permit, or ID, please contact your attorney to discuss your particular case. If you are not represented by Joseph Law Firm and have questions about your eligibility under this law or about your immigration status, please contact our office at (303) 297-9171 or click here to schedule a consultation so we can review your case and your options.