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In Need of Roadside Assistance: The DMV, Non-citizens, and State ID

It was the best of times…

On June 5, 2013, Colorado Governor Hickenlooper signed into law Senate Bill 251, also known as SB-251, or, the Colorado Road and Community Safety Act, a sensible measure allowing most non-citizens, whether or not in lawful status, to obtain a Colorado driver’s license. The point of the law was many-fold, but its broadest draw was the prospect of bringing more drivers on Colorado roads into compliance with Colorado’s requirements for liability insurance.

And then it was the worst of times…

And then, the government of Colorado, in its infinite wisdom, turned the show over to everyone’s favorite organ of State government, the Department of Motor Vehicles, essentially telling the DMV to figure out how to make the law work when it goes into effect on August 1, 2014.

There will be trouble when rubber meets road…

The DMV’s efforts to-date at implementing the law are not confidence-inspiring. First, the DMV issued draft regulations, then quickly rescinded the draft, announcing that instead of finalizing regulations after a period of public comment and revision, it would be implementing the law with as-yet unpublished emergency regulations that will go into effect for a maximum of 120 days without public review or comment.

There is a reason that DMV is acting in this way: Simply put, all signs are that the Department is overwhelmed by the job before it, which is to mesh federal immigration law with State law and get an entirely new application procedure up and running before thousands of non-citizens begin applying for licenses and IDs just under a month from now.

There will be congestion worthy of I-70 during ski season…

The new law does not just make undocumented folks eligible for licenses and IDs. No, it does much, much more than that. Beginning in August, everyone who is not a citizen or permanent resident of the U.S. will have to apply for a license or ID using the new procedure, and DMV is not going to make that easy. First, all applicants will have to apply by advance appointment at one of only five authorized DMV locations. In addition to undocumented people, this is going to mean everyone on a nonimmigrant employment visa, a student visa, a treaty visa (investors, traders, etc.), and anyone else in lawful but temporary status, including asylum applicants.

The appointment scheduling system went live on July 1st, and when I tried to schedule an appointment for myself today, I found that of the five locations – Denver, Aurora, Colorado Springs, Ft. Collins, and Grand Junction – two, Denver and Aurora, were completely booked through October 31st, and two others, the Springs and the Fort, were filling up fast. The only location that appeared to still have plenty of availability was Grand Junction, a convenient, five-hour drive from Denver.

There will be problems with background checks…

Many, probably most, people who do not have lawful status will have used a fake name, a fake ID, and/or a Social Security number that did not belong to them when applying for a job, a school, etc. Among this group will also be people who previously tried to apply for a driver’s license or State ID card in Colorado or elsewhere. As a result, when the DMV conducts background checks on these folks, it is going to turn up red flags in some instances. What the DMV does next is of potentially great concern, because DMV investigations can result in cases getting referred to local District Attorney’s offices for criminal prosecution, and certain D.A.’s offices have a history of bringing felony charges in these instances.

And that’s not all…

There are plenty of other problems, known and, probably, unknown. Among the still-unanswered questions is how the DMV is going to handle cases where people have trouble meeting the DMV’s rather stringent requirements for proving Colorado residence. For example, the DMV will allow applicants to provide evidence of a Colorado tax filing in the prior tax year, but what happens if an applicant is listed as a dependent on his parents’ tax return?

Somebody call for help…

What’s needed is direction from the highest levels of Colorado government. But is that going to happen? I have no idea…

Resources on the New Process

  • The DMV has compiled information on the new process here.
  • And DMV has issued a press release.
  • The DMV appointment scheduler is now live.
  • A schedule of DMV information sessions is here.

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