By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - Colorado granted driver's licenses to 62 illegal immigrants on Friday, officials said, during the first day of a controversial program that supporters say makes the streets safer and opponents argue rewards criminality.
"These drivers had to pass written and driving tests to receive their license," said Barbara Brohl, executive director of the Colorado Department of Revenue.
Another five people were given state-issued identification cards, and 23 others received learner's permits, she said.
Last year, Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, signed into law the bill that was passed by the Democratic-controlled state legislature, with no Republican support.
The measure's sponsor, state Senator Jessie Ulibarri, said at the time that the law would make the state's roads safer by requiring driving tests and insurance coverage for motorists. Law enforcement groups in the state supported the law, he added.
There were no long lines or a rush to motor vehicle offices on Friday because applicants had to make appointments beforehand to complete the process, said revenue department spokeswoman Daria Serna.
Seven applicants who signed up for the program did not keep their appointments on Friday, and 58 others were denied licenses or learner's permits for unspecified reasons, she said.
The license states on its face that it cannot be used as identification allowing the holder to vote, as a form of federal identification, nor to apply for government benefits.
Republican critics argued the law would only encourage more illegal immigration into the state, primarily from Central America. Colorado has a Hispanic population of about 21 percent.
Under the law, applicants must show they live in Colorado, have filed a state income tax return, and provide proof of their identity from their country of origin.
Additionally, they must swear an affidavit saying that they already have, or will, apply for citizenship.
Colorado is among 10 states that have passed laws allowing unauthorized immigrants to acquire driver's licenses or permits, although not all have implemented the policy.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Ken Wills)