Colorado kicks off drivers licenses with black stripes: So you know who the aliens are

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.

The new permit and license look like this.
The new permit and license look like this.

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, and there’s no such question as where do I call for DVLA complaints, because I know the number well. 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.


  • That’s just stupid that your driver’s license won’t be adequate identification. It’s the same information – photo etc. Isn’t the point to confirm you are you?


  • Just heard about this and googled it and your site popped up. I am a British citizen married to and American with a child together. I have lived in Colorado for almost 10 years. I work, pay my taxes and have been a good resident. I have jumped through every visa and green card hoop that’s been thrown at me….and soon I will have the privilege of carrying a marked license for an additional ~$30. Thanks for the additional info regards travelling – I guess we will have a big problem when our passports expire and we need ID.

  • ahhhhh like all the frustrated ladies above i am in the same boat sharing the same feelings of ‘whyyy me!’
    i finally thought I could leave my passport locked at home safely when i drive to the airport using my CO licence and fly from denver to vegas but no such luck…

  • Oh, how this pisses me off! They want to be nice to illegal immigrants, fine, but why do they have to screw up the lives of the legal ones??

    I’m Indian, and once my license gets renewed to this crippled one, I can kiss my international travel plans (mostly for work) bye bye. You see, I need visas to visit most countries, and Denver doesn’t have many consulates, so I need to go to San Francisco or LA. Now, once the consulate has my passport, how am I supposed to fly back home? Aaaaghhh!

    I consider myself fairly liberal, to the point that were I ever to become a citizen, I would vote Democrat. But after this? That party can kiss my a**.

  • This is a very interesting idea to do with licenses. I grew up in a state where the under 21 drivers have their licenses in a vertical position and the over 21’s have theirs horizontally. Denoting citizens from non-citizens could be extra helpful in different ways. With non-citizens, laws are applied to them, but just a bit differently.

  • This is all because they don’t want ANY immigrants in America. Especially ones that do not hold up to the “American Standard” facade. Nobody should consider themselves better because they have a visa, than the ones who don’t. In the end legally or illegally, we do what we have to to get where we are. To them, unfortunately,it matters not how immigrants came in, but that they even came in the first place. They will always find a new way to make you stand out and feel unwelcome.

  • I know it is an old post and I stumbled upon it while googling. Posting a comment and checking to see if anybody is aware of a way around this temporarily? Like contacting TSA ahead of time etc? I am originally from India and have been here for 11 years, and 7 years in Colorado. So, when they introduced this black stripe, I was not thrilled about it. But, at least liked the idea of 3 years license extension every time (even though I travel frequently for business and I have to carry my precious – passport for all the domestic flights). Now I got into a tough situation when I had to mail out my passport to NY for getting Canadian tourist visa stamped, and I have to travel domestically for business next week. So, you guessed it. I am stuck.
    I heard from some Indian friends that TSA here in DIA allowed them sometimes to travel with drivers license, which I felt is very odd. But, still, was wondering if you are aware of any exceptions or processes around it?

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