From the Field

The Path to Driver’s Licenses for All in Colorado, an Activist’s Perspective

Guest Blogger • May 18, 2013

By Esmeralda Dominguez for Driver’s Licenses for All

Driver’s Licenses for All is a grassroots group of documented and undocumented Colorado residents who grew out of the Initiative 52 ballot campaign, which collected more than 30,000 signatures with 1,200 volunteers and less than $12,000 dollars last year.

When we learned we didn’t have enough signatures to make it on the November ballot in 2012, there was sadness, anger, and many mixed emotions. We lost many followers and supporters, but something brought us back, the few of us who didn’t give up. Those of us remaining decided we had to keep fighting  and not take no for an answer.

For the next legislative session, we knocked on the doors of many senators, legislators, and representatives looking for sponsorship. Jessie Ulibarri, candidate for senator for District 21 at that time, took interest in the bill and after being contacted by one of our members, he decided to take the challenge. Once he won his election, Senator Ulibarri became our sponsor.

All the others senators or representatives we spoke to said, “NO!” Some wouldn’t receive us at all and others just listened, but ignored us. Once we had Senator Ulibarri’s support, we worked diligently with his staff, quickly built a team, and organized to draft the wording of this new bill.

He warned us that it was going to be a hard, long and expensive process, but we were so excited we didn’t care. Someone had finally listened, believed, and was willing to work with us to represent all of the Colorado immigrant community on this important issue.

While Senator Ulibarri was busy gaining support inside the Capitol, we organized and started having weekly meetings with him to plan our fight-back strategies. We wrote an endorsement letter to engage businesses, community leaders, organizations, allies, churches, and individuals to sign in support of the bill, which, at that time, we just called “Driver’s Licenses for All.”

We started going to businesses and churches, asking them to sign our endorsement letter. There were times when we didn’t have gas for our cars, money to ride the bus, food, water and shelter from snowy days, but we had hope, courage and the community that never gave up on us and that motivated us to continue.

I remember once when I asked a man standing in front of a mortuary to sign the letter of support and he looked at me like I was nuts. He said, “Why would I sign that?” I replied to him, “Because you never know when you will be the one being driven to your own funeral by someone who might not have a license.” He laughed and said, “Alright you got me, but I still can’t sign.”

Collecting endorsements letters, meeting with the Senator once a week, having our weekly meetings, driving around to other meetings, volunteering with other organizations, collecting funds and donations while educating the community on the bill was a tough challenge because most of us had families, jobs, school and other obligations.

Some of us had to bring our children along to the meetings and let the children be a part of this important process. Jorge was one of our young volunteers that would come to the meetings and rallies in support of SB-251. He said, “I want my dad to have a license so he can drive me to school and to the park without feeling scared that the police will stop him, arrest him and I won’t see him again.”

We held a press conference to let the community know we were ready to introduce the bill. When we announced to the public we were ready to continue we also announced the new name of the bill.  It was no longer Driver’s Licenses for All. Instead, it became the “Colorado Road and Community Safety Act,” which outlined the purpose of our bill – to have safer roads, safer communities, and add to the shared prosperity of the whole state by allowing undocumented drivers to register their cars, buy insurance and get a driver’s license.

SB-251 went through many challenges, including some very discriminatory amendments because some viewed the bill as a mini-amnesty for the state.  One amendment went so far as asking to include fingerprinting and background checks before getting a license.

Being at the Capitol through it all, learning all the legislative process, and being a part of this movement has given us a satisfaction that we had never felt before. We the people did this. The day we heard SB-251 had become a reality, we all cried full of happiness.

May 7th, 2013 will go down in history here in Colorado because it has shown once more what the people can do and accomplish when they organize.

We still have other steps to accomplish: Governor John Hickenlooper has to sign the bill, the Department of Motor Vehicles needs to implement the changes, and we have to teach the community what the licenses can and cannot be used for, all while we continue to advocate for SB-251.

Little by little we will get there and we will continue to make changes that will improve the lives of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States one state at a time.

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