Colorado became the eighth U.S. state to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants under a measure signed into law on Wednesday by Governor John Hickenlooper.
Under the bill passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature last month with no Republican support, applicants must show they live in Colorado, have filed a state income tax return and provide proof of their identity from their home country.
The bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Senator Jessie Ulibarri, said the measure had the support of the state’s law enforcement community because it was a public safety issue.
“Our roads will be safer when we can properly identify everyone who drives on them,” he said. “We estimate that thousands more Colorado drivers will get insured because of this law.”
Ulibarri said the license will state on its face that it cannot be used to vote, as a form of federal identification, or to apply for government benefits.
The signing of the Colorado law comes as the U.S. Senate is set to consider next week a bill that would be the largest overhaul of immigration policy in three decades.
Other states that allow illegal immigrants to apply for motor vehicle licenses in some form are New Mexico, Utah, Oregon, Nevada, Illinois and Washington and Maryland.
The Colorado law will go into effect on August 1, 2014, and licenses must be renewed every three years.
The driver’s license measure is the third legislative victory this year for immigration reform advocates in Colorado, which has a Hispanic population of nearly 21 percent.
Hickenlooper, a Democrat, signed into law a bill, which passed with some Republican backing, that allows children of illegal immigrants born in the state to receive reduced college tuition rates, provided they graduated from a Colorado high school.
A 2006 law that required local law enforcement to notify federal authorities of the immigration status of people suspected of being in the country illegally was repealed by the legislature.