I-300 is out to put the brakes on illegal immigration

The real terrors we should fear this Halloween aren't werewolves, ghosts or zombies, Dan Hayes insists, but people operating cars without driver's licenses.

"It's a complete public menace," he proclaims. Hayes, a property manager who lives in unincorporated Jefferson County, has bone-chilling tales of unlicensed drivers causing fatal accidents and escaping, unlicensed drivers getting into wrecks with insured cars and bankrupting their victims with medical and repair bills, unlicensed drivers violating traffic laws only to be let off by the courts, unlicensed drivers committing all kinds of crimes. Most of his tales are anecdotal, gathered through years of personal observation and discussions with others. "You just keep reading in the paper how many people are getting killed," he explains.

But Hayes isn't concerned with just any unlicensed driver. Speak with him for five minutes, and it becomes clear which drivers he's really talking about: "It's all these illegals driving around with no identification."

Driving around Denver, in particular. "Denver is the mecca of all these problems," he says. "All our politicians want is cheap labor. They roll out the red carpet for them. In the case of Denver, which I think clearly is a sanctuary city, all they're getting is a small court fine and are allowed to walk out the door. If they don't give police an ID, no one can prove they're an illegal alien. So these people get off the hook. It's unfair!"

Although enforcing federal immigration laws is not the jurisdiction of municipal police, enforcing traffic laws is. That's what inspired Hayes to come up with a way to get these drivers off the road — if not out of the country altogether. "All you can do is take their car away and put the burden of proof on the driver," he explains. "If you can't come in and prove you're a citizen with a license, then you should lose your car."

That's the theory behind Initiative 100, which Hayes and a small group of supporters were able to petition onto the Denver ballot in August 2008. The proposal directed Denver police to immediately impound and place a $2,500 bond on any vehicle being operated by an unlicensed driver or anyone who "is an illegal alien or may be reasonably suspected of being an illegal alien." Despite being officially — and often vehemently — opposed by Mayor John Hickenlooper, the majority of the Denver City Council, the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post, as well as several large religious and community organizations, Hayes's controversial proposal passed with 53.5 percent of the vote.

"The law on its face was completely nebulous," says Assistant City Attorney David Broadwell. "They have this twin agenda of talking about illegal immigration and talking about unlicensed driving in general. And that's the seed of the mass confusion about this measure. Is it an illegal-immigration measure, or is it an unlicensed-driving measure?"

Before Denver police started enforcing I-100 last December, Broadwell's office had issued a legal analysis that determined that the language of the law still allowed officers to have "discretionary authority" when deciding whether or not to tow a particular car. Even with such authority, though, police have already seized and impounded an estimated 6,900 cars operated by unlicensed drivers this year.

The vague and overarching language of the initiative — the only one like it in the nation — has led to a costly bureaucratic and legal mess both within Denver County Court and at the city's vehicle impound lot, Broadwell and other city officials say.

And that mess could soon get worse.

Hayes and his Future Denver Committee have managed to place another measure on Denver's November 3 ballot, which was mailed out to voters earlier this month. The measure has the city's political and law-enforcement establishment pushing the panic button; one official calls 300 "I-100 with fangs." It proposes to amend the wording of Hayes's earlier initiative so that police would be "hereby commanded" to "immediately" impound a car driven by any person who can't show a valid license.

"Even if I was the valid driver, police would lose all discretion and would be forced to impound my car," says Carlos Valverde of the Colorado Progressive Coalition. "People forget their wallet and purses at home all the time. I forget my wallet at least once a week." I-300 would allow police to consider proof of insurance with "convincing corroborating identification" as reason to refrain from towing a car — but it fails to define what, exactly, might be considered "convincing corroborating identification."

"I would keep a Costco card in the glove box," Hayes recommends. "Something with a photo on it, like a gym membership."

The CPC is one of a dozen groups currently campaigning against the measure, including the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, the Anti-Defamation League, the Denver Area Labor Federation, the Interfaith Alliance, the Metro Organizations for People and even the Libertarian Party of Colorado. Nearly every Denver politician — everyone from state senators to school-board candidates — has declared his opposition; Hickenlooper even recorded a robocall, urging voters to reject the "deceptive" measure that could cost the city $1.2 million in "unintended costs." (Listen to the robocall here). Earlier this month, Denver City Council members overwhelmingly passed a proclamation denouncing I-300.

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