Colorado slashes funding for immigrant drivers licenses, shutters four of five offices

Colorado has dramatically slashed funding to its program granting driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants – making it almost impossible for any new applicants to receive an appointment before 2016.

As a result of the cut, only one DMV office in the state is now able to offer driver's license appointments to the estimated 150,000 undocumented immigrants who are eligible to apply. The next available appointment is in March 2016.

Republican state lawmakers on the Joint Budget Committee voted twice last week not to approve the necessary $166,000 the Division of Motor Vehicles needed to continue running the program at five of the 56 DMV offices in Colorado, according to the Denver Post.

Last week's vote essentially cripples the state's ability to follow through on a Colorado law passed in 2013, one which Republicans have long stood against, allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses and identification cards.

Republicans are now the majority of the state Senate, and while Democrats hold the state House, the move to cut funding to the program is seen as an example that Republicans are ready to battle – and are empowered by significant Republican wins in the midterm elections.

"Voters were frustrated, so they put Republicans in charge in the Senate and said, 'We want a new direction,’" said Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs to the Denver Post. “I think you're seeing this week the start of a new direction, forward-looking, energetic and optimistic for the future."

Colorado began issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants in July, and since then the demand has been so high that at one point the state's website for appointments crashed because of traffic. In fact, Democrats and Latino advocates have been urging lawmakers to add more DMV locations where undocumented immigrants can go and get a license.

Even when licenses were being offered at five locations, The Denver Post had estimated some undocumented immigrants would have to wait up to four years to get an appointment at a DMV.

"It's pretty much impossible now," said Danny Quinlan, executive director of Compañeros, a Durango-based immigrant resource center, to the Denver Post. DMV's Denver Central office, the only location to survive the funding cut, will be able to offer only 31 appointments a day.

Driver’s licenses and ID cards were seen as a victory in the Latino community and among immigration activists who say thousands of undocumented immigrants need licenses to work and provide for their families.

Rep. Joe Salazar called the move “pure politics” and, he told the Post, “there is going to be massive recourse in our Latino community.”