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The problem with undocumented immigrants, Colorado driver’s licenses

Affected undocumented immigrants and Auxiliary Bishop of Denver Jorge Rodriguez brought awareness to the effects of the oversights present in the SB-251 and the moral obligation to seek its improvement, at a panel organized by Together Colorado and the Colorado Catholic Conference Jan. 31.

The 2013 Colorado Road and Community Safety Act (SB-251) is a program supported by the Catholic Church that has provided driver’s licenses, permits and IDs to over 50,000 immigrants in Colorado. However, some lapses in the law have left 40 percent of Colorado immigrant residents without such documentation. The new SB18-108 was recently proposed by state legislators with bipartisan support and is meant to address the issues raised by SB-251.

“Allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses ensures that individuals without immigration status can pass driving exams, obtain insurance, and legally drive to work, church and school,” said Jennifer Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference to the Denver Catholic. “This makes our roads safer for everyone, stimulates the economy, and promotes fuller integration of immigrants into our communities.

“Immigrant families can carry on with their lives without the fear of being stopped by the police, fined or charged with driving without a license, and possibly referred to ICE for removal proceedings.”

The SB-251 only allows those residents with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) to obtain a driver’s license but does not take into account the undocumented immigrants with a Social Security Number (SSN). Some undocumented immigrants have SSNs for different reasons: they came legally into the country and overstayed, they are part of the population who received SSNs before the ITIN program was created in 1996; or they are DACA recipients, who are undocumented but possess SSNs, valid working permits and protection from deportation.

Moreover, for those Colorado immigrants who qualify for an SB-251 license or ID, the waiting time for a mandatory in-person appointment can range from three months to two years.

“It is our duty to work hard for the legal improvement of our system and laws, perfecting them and producing laws that respect reason and promote the common good of our country and society,” said Bishop Rodriguez during his reflection on the role of laws in society. “Law has to be based on reason and not on custom, will, politics, power or fashion.”

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The SB18-108 seeks to make identification documents available for undocumented immigrants with SSNs and allow the renewal process to be done online or by mail.

“I don’t have a driver’s license, but I have to go on. I can’t stop. I have to take my children to school,” said Erika Muñoz, volunteer activist with Together Colorado, to the Denver Catholic. “I’m afraid to get pulled over and deported one day.”

Muñoz is one of the many immigrants affected by the difficulties of the SB-251 renewal process. With only three offices in Colorado that provide this service, she sees her chances of obtaining documentation very low.

“I feel frustrated, but I refuse to focus on the things I can’t do. It motivates me to keep fighting for a change in law… and for equality and human dignity,” she said.

Laura Peniche, a DACA recipient, speaks during the Together We Drive informative panel at Our Lady Mother of the Church Parish on January 31, 2018, in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

A family issue

Other than impacting undocumented parents, this law is also affecting their children’s education, said Cynthia Trinidad-Sheahan, director of secondary education and educator effectiveness in Adams 14 district.

The law impacts the work of teachers with students, she said; many students say they couldn’t go to school because their parents couldn’t drive them, and they had to rely on neighbors.

“Many educators seem to have misconceptions that the parents of these students don’t care,” she continued. “But it’s because many times they don’t have a way to take them to school… which [makes] their involvement in the child’s education [difficult].”

Still, many educators and school systems have acted to meet the needs of many of these families. Trinidad-Sheahan, herself, has even made home visits to student’s homes to talk to their parents: “It’s wonderful to see the teenagers’ faces when they see us at the door. Then they ask, ‘Miss, why did you come to my house?’ And we tell them: ‘Because you’re important.’”

Many students and children are psychologically affected by the uncertainty of the status of their parents. Laura Peniche, a DACA recipient and volunteer activist, reflected on the fear she and her children experience.

Her oldest daughter knows that one day they may be separated, that her mother may be deported, a hard reality for a child, she said. Peniche asked all Colorado residents to contact their state senator to show support for the SB18-108, so that immigrants may not fear to drive and can work to provide for their families.

Bishop Rodriguez highlighted the Church’s support for the immigrant community and raised the true challenge that today’s society faces: “The work is not the House or the Senate, but forming men and women in the truth, with a clear and sincere conscience… men and women who are faithful to their essence that is rational…

“Whether you’re a person of faith or not, it is clearly reasonable to say that a person’s dignity doesn’t change with circumstances,” he said, “whether that is poor or rich, sick or healthy, a documented or undocumented immigrant.”

Editor’s note, Feb. 7: An earlier version of this article did not clearly state why the Church is in support of SB-251. The article has been updated to reflect this.

Vladimir Mauricio-Perez
Vladimir Mauricio-Perez
Vladimir is the editor of El Pueblo Católico and a contributing writer for Denver Catholic.

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