Colorado begins issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants

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Humberto Cruz Salas’ life may soon become a lot less stressful. The 21-year-old undocumented Denver resident has an appointment on Monday to apply for a driver’s license. It sounds mundane, but until now, obtaining a license has been a pipe dream.

Most states prohibit undocumented immigrants from driving legally, but on Friday, Colorado became the 12th state to issue driver’s licenses to immigrants regardless of their legal status.

“I’m just really happy,” said Cruz Salas, who arrived in Colorado from Mexico at age three.


He’ll soon be able to drive to work or run errands, things he’s done for years out of necessity, but always with an intense feeling of paranoia. The fear of deportation was all too real.

“It’s really stressful and really risky,” he said.

Cruz Salas hopes the Monday appointment will ease the stress over his immigration status, but there’s no guarantee. Colorado will require undocumented immigrants to present taxpayer IDs, proof of residency and home country paperwork — regulations that are stricter than other states with laws that allow undocumented immigrants to drive.

Only a handful of processing centers in Colorado will handle the requests, which means undocumented immigrants who were not among the early rush to make appointments may face wait times of several years.

Immigration advocates have cheered the new law but say they worry it may amount to just a stopgap measure. Passing comprehensive immigration reform would more effectively address the issue nationwide, they argue. Instead, individual states are tackling the issue, which has resulted in a number of disparate state laws.


The chances of Washington passing comprehensive immigration reform anytime soon are slim, however.

Still, Cruz Salas said he welcomed the new law.

“Absolutely, I’d like reform to pass,” Cruz Salas said. “But a driver’s license is a good first step.”


Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.

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