Demand outpaces driver's licenses for immigrants in Colorado

Article subtitle: 
[Related] Hundreds gather in July for a public workshop in Denver on the law making Colorado residents in the country illegally eligible for driver's licenses
Article author: 
Jenny Deam
Article publisher: 
The Los Angeles Times
Article date: 
18 October 2014
Article category: 
Colorado News
Article Body: 

For Cristina Chavez it has become a middle-of-the-night ritual. For the last two months, after a long shift of cleaning offices, the 33-year-old who is in this country illegally logs onto her computer about 1 a.m., trying for her first driver's license in America.

But each time the result is the same: no appointment available.

On Aug. 1, Colorado became the 11th state to allow immigrants like Chavez to get driver's licenses. The 2013 state law, heralded as historic for its bipartisan support, was billed as a way to make roadways safer because those living here illegally would have to pass driving tests and carry insurance ...

Denver immigration attorney Hans Meyer describes these people as "stuck in licensing purgatory."

Officials acknowledge they may have underestimated the interest and urgency of applicants, but that only adds to Chavez's worry.

"I'm scared. I have to drive to get to work, to get groceries, to take care of my son," she says. Ten years ago she entered the country illegally from Mexico. She hates driving without a license and hates the panic she feels when she passes a police car, knowing a traffic stop could mean deportation and separation from her young son, who is a citizen born in this country. "We need to be together. We are a family" ...

So far, 6,701 people have been issued 4,131 licenses, learner's permits and ID cards, says Daria Serna, communications director for the Colorado Department of Revenue. Of those appointments, there were more than 1,200 no-shows. Others failed the tests or did not have the required documentation ...

Now, as the November election nears, the political climate surrounding the new law has turned chilly.

Bob Beauprez, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who once supported the law, vows to repeal it if elected. Meanwhile, some Latino groups have threatened to withdraw their support to reelect Gov. John Hickenlooper because they say the Democrat has grown too quiet and done too little to help a program he once championed.

"I'm sitting this one out," activist Patricia Ramirez says of the governor's race ...

Chris Ward, fiscal note manager for the Colorado Legislative Council, is aware of the complaints and is sympathetic, but he thinks the conspiracy theories are out of line: "I don't think there was some plan to keep people from getting licenses, but it may seem like that is happening."

Instead, there was always a "built-in expectation that not everyone would apply in the beginning," he says. The state predicted about 30,000 to 40,000 of the 150,000 eligible would apply in the first year — an estimate he believes is on track.

Chavez is less sure. "There are a lot of people who don't like us," she says. But she is not giving up. "I will keep trying. I have to." ...