Transportation Access, Equity, and Environmental Justice

On Thursday, April 7, 2016, I stood in solidarity with 30 other individuals, at a vigil, outside Glenwood Springs Courthouse in support of Colorado House Bill 1274. Although the proposed bill did not pass in this current’s Colorado legislative session, it would have increase the number of offices in the state to provide drivers’ licenses to individuals who are not lawfully present in the country.  Three years ago, Colorado Legislature passed a related law granting the opportunity for undocumented immigrants living in the state to obtain a driver’s license. Despite this new law, many potential beneficiaries have struggled to obtain their driver’s license due to a high volume demand, a complicated system, and limited number of issuing offices. Simply getting an appointment, at one of the three offices in the state, has been impossible for many individuals. HB 1274 would have provided much needed benefits to expand the program.

“Three years ago SB251 was passed to give every Coloradan the opportunity to get a driver’s license regardless of immigration status, but this law has not been implemented equitably. Tens of thousands of people have still not been able to get an appointment because of political moves to block the program.”

-Sophia Clark, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition

The National Association of Social Work Code of Ethics calls for social workers to be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and to advocate for changes in policy and legislation that ensure all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic needs and to fully develop. While many immigrants in our community wait for the driver’s license program to expand, they struggle to access basic mobility to essential goods, services, and activities. Their level of mobility is constricted especially in Western Colorado where rural mountain locations can be remote and public transportation is limited.

At the vigil I attended, many people offered their testimony describing their struggle to transporting their children to school or to medical appointments and then transporting themselves to work. They acknowledged the beauty of the mountains but they felt that they could not access them because many of the outdoor activities on the mountains require transportation.


According to a research report conducted by  the University of Vermont Transportation Research Center,  issues of equity and access in transportation have long been recognized as central to those concerned with environmental and social justice. For  immigrants as for other members of the general population, being able to get to work, school, and medical appointments on time, are all important parts of a healthy and sustainable life.

Additionally, according to the National Equity Atlas, for households living in regions without robust transit systems, access to driving a car is critical. However, low-income people and people of color are less likely to have access. Western Colorado seems to be not the exception to these statistics where our most vulnerable populations are our immigrant community members.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has accepted that importance and role of Environmental Justice in the topic of transportation, as evidenced by an in-depth guidebook created to direct transportation practitioners to:

  • Avoid, minimize, or mitigate disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects, including social and economic effects, on minority and low-income populations.
  • Ensure the full and fair participation by all potentially affected communities in the transportation decision-making process.
  • Prevent the denial of, reduction in or significant delay in the receipt of benefits by minority and low-income populations.

The fight for passing Colorado House Bill 1274 during this past legislative session, is a prime example of the intersectionality of transportation equity and environmental justice as needed for our most vulnerable populations. More than an immigration related issue, providing greater access to drivers’ licenses to our undocumented community is an issue of environmental justice helping avoid the adverse social and economic effects on the lack of access to basic needs and mobility.

Our social work profession’s commitment to human rights and social justice places an ethical obligation to advocate for undocumented immigrants who are being exploited for political purposes. A major form of this exploitation is the inequitable implementation of laws that provide access to basic needs and mobility. I make the call to my fellow social work professionals and community members, to engage in advocating for future policies that stand behind the human dignity and worth of all individuals granting them equitable access to essential mobility and needs for basic survival.

Suggested Readings:

Immigrants Urge Expanding License Program

Living in a Car Culture Without a License

Impact of Allowing All Immigrants Access to Driver’s Licenses

States Offering Driver’s Licenses to Immigrants


Photo Credit to: Anahi Araiza at vigil outside of Glenwood Springs Courthouse

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