Initiative 52 would let undocumented immigrants get driver's licenses

Initiative 52 would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, as long as they provide an individual tax identification number, last year's tax return and a form of government-issued ID from their country of origin. Today, backers of the initiative held a press conference at the Capitol to call for support in gathering 140,000 signatures to put the initiative on the ballot. Thus far, they have more than 6,700.

Volunteer Jose Sanchez says the signature-gathering has been slow because "our message is not being transmitted to the community." Backers have until August 6 to collect signatures. To place an initiative on the November ballot takes 86,105 signatures; the backers of Initiative 52 are aiming for 140,000 to give themselves a cushion.

Undocumented immigrants can neither sign nor circulate the petition. Backers called upon the entire Hispanic community -- and especially business owners -- to help.

"We feel a social responsibility," says businessman Alexander Ovando of Premier Insurance of why he supports Initiative 52. He says he sees hit-and-run accidents all the time in which an undocumented driver without a license flees a scene because he or she is afraid of the police, leaving the other driver to foot the bill.

Jose Ortiz, who proposed the initiative, gave several other reasons why Initiative 52 is a good idea. In addition to safer roads, he says the economy would benefit from people buying cars and insurance, and paying license and registration fees at the DMV. That purchasing "would really re-active our economy," he says through an interpreter.

Undocumented immigrants with licenses could also become organ donors, he says. There are currently 2,000 Coloradans waiting for transplants, Ortiz adds.

Backers estimate that 150,000 people would be able to get driver's licenses through Initiative 52. Ortiz says he believes up to 75,000 would sign up to be organ donors.

Sanchez says Initiative 52 is not about making undocumented immigrants legal. "We're trying to create a safer community and safer roads," he says. Providing identification will allow the community "to come out of the shadows and say, 'This is who I am,'" he adds.

Before 1999, undocumented immigrants could get driver's licenses in Colorado. Jennifer Piper of the American Friends Service Committee and a volunteer on Initiative 52 says changing the law hasn't worked the way proponents claimed it would. "They said people would go home," she maintains, "...and we all know that has not been the case."

Only a few states allow undocumented immigrants to get licenses. Washington and New Mexico offer full licenses, while in Utah, the licenses can only be used for driving -- not for boarding a plane or buying a gun, for example.

Jordan Garcia, another volunteer and chair of the board of the Chinook Fund, has been collecting signatures. "I'm tired of seeing my friends and loved ones at the mercy of a broken, broken system because of a small plastic card," he says.

More from our Immigration archive: "Destined for Deportation chronicles the fight of two immigrants to stay in this country."

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar