DENVER (AP) — Colorado will begin issuing driver's licenses and identification cards to immigrants Friday regardless of their legal status, underscoring a sea change in a state that less than a decade ago passed strict immigration enforcement laws.
Now, thousands of immigrants are waiting to get cards they hope will add a degree of legitimacy to their residency in Colorado. About 9,500 people are signed up for appointments through the next 90 days to get the documents, with more getting scheduled every day. Both people in the country illegally and those who have temporary legal status will qualify.
The demand for the licenses and identification cards has been tremendous, with the state's website for appointments crashing at one point because of traffic, and immigrant advocates urging officials to add more locations where people can go. So far, appointments are being handled at only five locations— Denver, Aurora, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, and Grand Junction.
But it wasn't long ago that immigrants could only dream of walking into a department of motor vehicles office to get a license. In 2006, Democrats and Republicans in Colorado passed a package of laws cracking down on illegal immigration, including requiring law enforcement to notify federal authorities when they arrested someone suspected of living illegally in the U.S. That law has since been repealed.
Last year, Colorado was among eight states that passed laws allowing identification documents for people in the country illegally. Two of those states, Illinois and Nevada, have already started issuing the documents. California plans to start in January.
"The changes we've seen in Colorado are absolutely remarkable and really reflect a turning of the tide in the debate on what immigration means and how immigrants are viewed, not only in Colorado but in the country," said Hans Meyer, a Denver-based immigration attorney who was involved in crafting the new law.
Still, there are detractors who argue it will encourage illegal immigration.
"You reward illegal behavior, you beget more illegal behavior," said Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch.
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