Editorial: Anti-immigrant Republicans abet black market
Last year, because of their need to put their party’s anti-immigrant orthodoxy ahead of public safety and reality, Colorado Senate Republicans did their best to strangle a state law that allows some people who are in the country illegally to get driver’s licenses.
This year, we learned that their illogical ideological purity has bred criminal behavior.
And even after the Republican attorney general pointed out the unintended consequence of limiting the program, Republicans rejected the most effective cure, leaving in place conditions that abet a black market.
Here’s what’s happened:
In 2013, the Legislature, fully controlled by Democrats, passed a law that set up a way for people who are in the country illegally to get driver’s licenses, learner’s permits or state ID cards if they met certain conditions, including proof of Colorado residency and a U.S. taxpayer identification number.
By the summer of 2015, 10 states and the District of Columbia had similar programs in place.
The Colorado licenses cost $79.58, which is $54.58 more than a regular driver’s license in order to pay for the program. The cards say on their face that they are “not valid for federal identification, voting or public benefit purposes.” They cannot, for example, be used to board a commercial flight.
What they do allow is for undocumented immigrants to be licensed drivers, register vehicles in their own names and buy insurance. And, folks, thousands of our immigrant neighbors are driving, with licenses or not. It only makes sense to let them do so legally. Those who come forward are registering with the state and seeking to take personal responsibility.
Colorado police and sheriff’s associations were for the bill, believing it would reduce the number of hit-and-run incidents and even chases involving unlicensed drivers.
We think cops, who must deal with the real situation on the state’s roads rather than a fantasy world in which these immigrants don’t really live here, know what they are talking about on this issue. We also support the idea that people driving 75 mph next to your family on Interstate 70 have a valid license and insurance.
When the law took effect in the summer of 2014, the Division of Motor Vehicles (which is part of the Department of Revenue) offered the immigrant licenses at five stations, four on the Front Range and in Grand Junction.
The program was wildly popular, issuing 8,000 licenses and turning away 5,000 other applicants for lacking proof of eligibility in just the first seven months. The limited number of offices made it difficult to get an appointment and required long waits — and long drives for people outside of the Front Range — when an appointment was obtained.
During the 2015 legislative session, the Department of Revenue sought approval to spend anticipated fee money raised by the licenses to offer them at more offices, likely including in Glenwood Springs.
The program expansion passed the House, but Republicans, whose hard-line immigration rhetoric has since helped give the GOP Donald Trump as its standard bearer, had gained a one-seat majority in the Colorado Senate.
Republican senators flexed their mighty one-vote majority muscle and blocked the expansion. That temporarily forced the DMV to make the licenses available at only one Denver location, increasing competition for the limited appointments.
A compromise in the Joint Budget Committee enabled the DMV to offer the licenses at three stations for roughly the past year.
In January, Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced that her office and the DMV were investigating the sale of appointments to get the licenses for as much as $1,000.
The Post Independent reported last week that at least two Glenwood Springs businesses have been reported as obtaining appointments for local immigrants and charging more than $100 for them.
In effect, Senate Republicans’ refusal to let a self-financed program expand to meet demand created a black market for appointments.
Coffman’s investigation is continuing. The practice of selling a public good already was a civil violation, and the Legislature this year agreed to make it a misdemeanor.
Abel Esteban, owner of Impuestos Seguros, one of the Glenwood companies that charges to arrange appointments, knows how to fix the situation: “Open more offices, and this problem goes away,” he told the PI.
Would lawmakers, seeing the consequences of their earlier actions to restrict availability of the licenses, take that step?
The Colorado House, on a party-line vote with a three-Democrat majority, passed a bill allowing such an expansion. But a Senate committee last week indefinitely delayed further action.
By their choices, Colorado Republicans are showing that they do not wish to help the state come to grips with the reality of its changing population and aren’t interested in ensuring that the drivers next to your family on I-70 are licensed and insured.
They won’t be swayed from their position by law enforcement or by the creation of a thriving black market that they agreed should be criminalized.
It’s silly. The national Republican Party after losing the White House to Barack Obama in 2012 concluded that it must broaden its appeal, including to Latino voters.
But many elected Republicans are so wedded to the party’s recent history of pandering to fear and xenophobia that they just can’t bring themselves to take even this small step to recognize reality, improve highway safety and provide a bit of decency to people who bolster our economy with their hard work.
Their position helps no one.
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