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Colorado issues licenses to drivers who lack legal residency

August 3, 2014 at 5:38 PM EDT

HARI SREENIVASAN: First of all, nearly 10,000 people have already signed up for this, and I’ve got to ask what does this driver’s license get you, just the ability to drive? 

IVAN MORENO: Yeah, it gets you the ability to drive, essentially. And for some of the immigrants who I’ve talked to and their advocates, they also say it gives them a certain peace of mind so that in their interactions with law enforcement they will feel a bit more comfortable and a bit more at ease.

And also, again I think it goes into immigrants feeling like it gives them a degree of legitimacy that really a lot of them probably won’t ever have while they are in this country.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And that same level of legitimacy has got to be a source of concern for critics who say ‘They are illegal in the first place, we are enabling them to stay here, and now we have appointments of exactly when they are going to show up to DMV, so shouldn’t we actually meet them with a customs official there?’

IVAN MORENO: Well, to the first part of your statement that has been part of the argument from people is that it will—opponents of this—that it will encourage or reward illegal behavior. I haven’t talked to anyone who has actually said ‘Let’s put federal authorities outside of this DMV and arrest and deport these people,’ but I think the biggest concern is that again you are sanctioning illegal behavior is what critics of this law say.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So who is pushing for the law in the first place and how long have they been working on it?

IVAN MORENO: Well, it was the Democratic-controlled legislature here in Colorado and then the governor signed it. It was supported by Democrats and actually last year was the first year that it was introduced here. Colorado was part of this wave of states that passed this law.

You mentioned that it’s 11 states that have it, but most of those were last year, eight to be exact. So this is really something that I think—to be perfectly blunt—came out of nowhere last year and I think it grew out of some frustration that Congress’ inability to pass any kind of comprehensive immigration reform.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So who’s paying for this program?

IVAN MORENO: Well, the program is intended to be sustained by user fees. So the people who are applying for these licenses and identification cards are paying for these services themselves. And for that reason, these driver’s licenses and the IDs are much higher than what the rest of the general population pays — about double the amount of what people usually pay, so the funding going to support this program is all user fees.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Are there safeguards in place that there are no other services that can be accessed with a driver’s license now?

IVAN MORENO: There are. In Colorado these licenses and identification cards are clearly marked to say they can’t be used for voting, they can’t be used to access federal benefits. And the idea too is that you can’t take your driver’s license or ID card to the airport and board a plane.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Ivan Moreno of the Associated Press joining us from Denver. Thanks so much.

IVAN MORENO: Thank you.