Colorado Senate Approves Driver's Licenses For Undocumented Immigrants

Interstate 25 in Denver, Colorado.

Interstate 25 in Denver, Colorado.

Colorado is close to joining just three other states that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

On Thursday, the state Senate approved the license measure. The next step is the state House.

Licenses would be labeled to say the immigrants are not legal residents, and the identification could not be used to board a plane, vote, or to obtain public benefits.

The bill passed 20-15 after a short debate. The passage of the bill marks a shift in a state that seven years ago passed strict enforcement laws.

Sponsors say immigrants already drive regardless of legal status and should learn the rules of the road.

Republican opponents fear the bill will encourage illegal immigration.

New Mexico, Illinois and Washington allow driver's licenses for those illegally in the country. Utah grants immigrants a driving permit that can't be used for identification.

Under the measure, immigrants would have to pass a driver's license test and prove they're paying state and federal taxes. They also must show an identification card from their country of origin. Democratic Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, the sponsor of the bill, said the reason of the qualifying documents is for immigrants to show they are making themselves known to state government.

Colorado's county sheriffs and police chiefs support the bill.

Supporters of the driver's license bill said public opinion on illegal immigration in Colorado is changing.

In 2006, Democrats joined Republicans in passing a strict package of immigration laws, including barring non-emergency benefits to those in the country illegally.

Lawmakers also passed a requirement for law enforcement to report to federal immigration officials people they arrest who are suspected of being in the country illegally. A bill to repeal that law this year has gone to the governor's desk.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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