Going to the DMV is hell. It’s like walking through the Narnia wardrobe to the 1950’s, where you sit for hours, waiting for your bingo number to be called.
No matter if you’ve lived in Colorado your whole life, or if you have a visa, or even if you are undocumented, you can now legally get a drivers license. If you have a visa, which means you’re legally present and documented, you will also need to show your passport, and your I-94 (which is not actually physically required by the TSA any more, but you will need to print for the DMV), along with your other visa paperwork, such as your I-20 if you’re a student. Then, if you pass the tests, your drivers license is given but it will only be valid until your I-94 expires – and for those whose visas are renewed every two years, that means they need to go to the DMV and apply for a new drivers license every two years too.
At least we have a form of identification that is familiar to people in Colorado. A drivers license shows we belong. We can flash it at the airport and not get asked lots of additional questions. We can show it when we’re carded at bars and no eyebrows get raised.
Now, thanks to the Senate in Colorado, it’s changed.
As of August 1, the State of Colorado has passed a new law that non-citizens, both documented and undocumented, turning up at the DMV for their first drivers license, will be issued with a different license. One with a black band across the top. Even though we still pass the same tests, and provide even more information to the DMV than American citizens do, we will not be able to use this driver’s license as Federal ID any more. To travel domestically, we will have to use our passport. The drivers license won’t be accepted.
I’m a pasty white, white woman. White all the way. Brown hair, brown eyes, Aussie accent. Pretty freaking charming. I like having my Colorado license because it makes me even more normal, acceptable and average. Believe it or not, I don’t always want to talk about Australia, about how you’ll be killed by the wildlife, or how someone’s aunt is living in Adelaide. Sometimes I just want to board a plane and zone out. With my Colorado license, all these things are just easier.
It sucks that when my next visa renewal comes up, I’ll be getting a State-issued ID that won’t get me that affordance any more. My kids will also need them. We’re all traveling on passports, even if we were to fly from Denver to Colorado Springs. That’s roll-your-eyes-and-sigh irritating. We’ll all have the same drivers license with the same benefits as undocumented citizens. Doesn’t seem very fair to me.
But for some of my friends – the students from Saudi, for example, who are profiled and always subject to secondary screenings – not having the ability to use their drivers license as federal ID means they are now less able to demonstrate that they are trusted, legally present, law abiding people. Even if they’ve lived in the US for years, are legally present and employed, pay taxes, hold a drivers license, and own a car, they won’t get to use that State issued ID that shows that they play by the rules and they belong.
And of course, it wouldn’t be good politics to allow visa holders to pay the same price as American citizens for a drivers license! The price for legally present aliens, and undocumented immigrants has been increased to $50.50 – an addition of $29.50.
It’s another step backwards for those of us who are legally present in Colorado. While I see the advantages in bringing undocumented citizens out of the shadows and giving them the access to legal processes such as having drivers licenses, lumping legally present aliens in with undocumented citizens in the process actually undermines all the work and money we spend to be legally present.