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TCL > April 2014 Issue > 2014 Associates Campaign for Justice—“May I See Your ID?”

April 2014       Vol. 43, No. 4       Page  53
Access to Justice

2014 Associates Campaign for Justice—“May I See Your ID?”
by Clarissa M. Collier

  About the Author

Clarissa M. Collier is an Associates Campaign Representative for Holland & Hart LLP and serves on the Legal Aid Foundation’s Associates Advisory Board. Her practice focuses on creditors’ rights, bankruptcy, and commercial litigation—(303) 295-8057,

When a person cashes a check, rents a hotel room or an apartment, opens a bank account, or picks up a prescription, there is a question that he or she is always asked: "May I see your identification?" When a person applies for food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, a job, unemployment benefits, or a mortgage, there is an item that he or she will always have to present: a valid ID. And when a person does not have a valid ID, other documentation, such as a certified birth certificate, is required to obtain one.

Many never stop and think about the importance of an ID, or the fact that it is the gateway to obtaining essential services. I—and I’m sure many others—never think twice when asked to present an ID. However, countless low-income Coloradans from a variety of backgrounds are unable to satisfy the simple request of presenting identification and, as a result, are prevented from receiving many of the essential services they seek. Ensuring that all Coloradans possess a valid state-issued ID and a certified birth certificate is a daunting task, but it is one that has been admirably taken on by Colorado Legal Services (CLS) through the Colorado Collaborative ID Project.

LAF’s Associates Campaign for Justice

On April 1, 2014, the Legal Aid Foundation of Colorado (LAF) will commence its annual Associates Campaign for Justice, in which young attorneys throughout the state will assist LAF in raising money for its sole beneficiary, CLS. CLS has helped ensure that free civil legal services are available to low-income Coloradans for almost ninety years. The Associates Campaign allows law firms to engage in some friendly competition while providing young attorneys the opportunity to give back to their communities through their contributions to CLS. Funds raised will enable CLS to continue to operate the ID Project and provide other essential services. All young attorneys can make a difference in the lives of Colorado’s most vulnerable populations by participating in the Associates Campaign at their firm or office, or by contributing to the Associates Campaign by visiting and selecting "Donate Now."

A Collaborative Effort

The year 2006 brought significant changes in identification requirements for both federal and state services. The federal government passed the Deficit Reduction Act, which contains a provision requiring all individuals applying for Medicaid or renewing their coverage to produce a passport or birth certificate to prove they are U.S. citizens.

Also in 2006, the Colorado General Assembly passed House Bill (HB) 1023, requiring strict forms of identification to establish eligibility for public benefits, including but not limited to:

  • Colorado’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • the Colorado Indigent Care Program (CICP)
  • the Colorado Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP), which provides assistance with winter heating costs
  • the Old Age Pension Program (OAP), which provides financial and healthcare assistance for people who are 60 years or older
  • Aid to the Blind and Aid to the Needy Disabled (AND).

Specifically, HB 1023 (now CRS § 24-76.5-103) states that identification documents are necessary to establish "lawful presence in the United States" and further provides that the only standalone acceptable documents are a Colorado-issued driver’s license or ID card, a U.S. military ID or military dependent card, a U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Marine ID, or Native American Tribal documents. This law created a barrier for many low-income and homeless Coloradans who need assistance.

The Deficit Reduction Act, HB 1023, and other tightened identification requirements resulting from the September 11 terrorist attacks created what Project Director and CLS Senior Attorney Linda Olson characterized as "the perfect storm of restrictions." To respond to the new requirements, the ID Project was developed in 2007 to address the need for Coloradans to obtain and possess a state ID and certified birth certificate to access public benefits and obtain housing, employment, healthcare, and many other essential services.

CLS is the lead agency and fiscal agent of the ID Project; however, the collaboration also includes the vital participation of the Denver Department of Human Services; the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless; and Metro CareRing (MCR), one of Denver’s largest providers of emergency services. In addition, dozens of other public and nonprofit organizations make referrals to the ID Project, which works through CLS’s fourteen offices in Colorado.

Quite possibly the ID Project’s strongest partnership has been with the Colorado Lawyers Committee (CLC). Working collaboratively with the ID Project, the CLC identified certain systematic barriers that improperly prevented homeless and low-income individuals from obtaining IDs. To address these barriers, the CLC created the Homeless ID Task Force, which recruited twenty-two volunteer attorneys to represent twenty-six homeless or low-income clients in obtaining identification. For those individuals who obtained an ID, it took an average of sixty attorney hours and nearly eight months to obtain a single ID. The ID Project provides much of the case-by-case information needed by the CLC’s Homeless ID Task Force and remains a mainstay of this group.

"Everyone Desperately Needs Help"

There may be a presumption that the issue of having, or being able to obtain, identification is limited to immigrants. In actuality, this issue touches U.S.-born Coloradans from all walks of life. Homeless adults and children, the disabled, transgender individuals, low-income victims of the 2013 Colorado floods and Black Forest Fire, the elderly, victims of domestic violence who cannot return to the homes they have fled, Native Americans, and veterans have sought assistance through the ID Project to obtain proper identification for the first time or to replace identification that has been lost or destroyed. Given the scope of clients that the ID Project serves, it was not surprising that Linda Olson would say that "everyone desperately needs help."

Representation of Clients in Complex Cases

Olson has worked at CLS for thirty-four years and has served as the Project Director of the ID Project since its inception. Project staff also includes attorney Bonnie Sarkar, paralegal Susan Tattershall, and several volunteers, and all have seen an astounding number of cases. Each case has a unique set of circumstances and facts that often are extremely complex and tragic and sometimes are shocking.

The less complex cases—for example, where people may have some of the necessary documentation but cannot afford the cost of an ID or birth certificate—are handled by MCR, where clients can receive a voucher to pay for the necessary documents. MCR also can assist by ordering out-of-state birth certificates. MCR refers people with more complex situations to CLS, where attorneys or paralegals assess their cases and assist and represent them in obtaining proper identification.

For example, many elderly people were born at home and do not have birth certificates, yet they need a current ID to obtain healthcare or even a handicap parking placard. Recently, many Coloradans’ original records were destroyed in the Colorado floods and wildfires. Homeless individuals, families, and children are vulnerable to losing their documents through their transient lifestyle or are becoming the victims of robbery on the streets.

Problems also can arise where individuals have been informally adopted or have used a step-parent or foster parent’s last name throughout their lives—meaning the name on all their records does not match the actual name on their birth certificate. Often, the only recourse is a legal name change, which is expensive and almost always requires the assistance of counsel. This situation can be complicated further if the individual is a felon, because Colorado law only allows felons to change their names in certain limited circumstances and by using special name change forms and procedures. In other ID cases, applicants must get their birth certificates or Social Security records corrected, obtain copies of their Citizenship or Naturalization Certificates, or have foreign documents translated before they can receive state IDs and necessary benefits.

In one particularly difficult case, a couple who worked for a traveling carnival stopped at a home in Southern Colorado in the 1950s and asked if they and their daughter could sleep on the front porch. The next day, the homeowners found that the couple had abandoned their child, who was unable to speak and was developmentally disabled. The child could provide no information about her name, age, or place of birth. Fortunately, the homeowners kept the child for several years, but eventually she was institutionalized. Over the years, various agencies had assigned her several names and different birth dates. This was a serious problem when the now 60-something-year-old woman needed surgery and the Medicaid provider discovered the discrepancy in the records and refused the necessary medical procedure. Thankfully, the social worker contacted the ID Project for help. Olson traced back all available documentation and then convinced the various state agencies involved with the client’s services to agree to one name and date of birth for the client. Through these efforts, the disabled client obtained a state ID and finally had the necessary surgery.

In another recent case, Tattershall assisted a disabled Ogalala Sioux woman who was born in Nebraska sixty-one years ago in her grandparent’s home. The birth was never registered, so she lacked a certified birth certificate, which she needed for government assistance and to establish membership in the tribe. Tattershall spent nearly two years gathering all the documents required by Nebraska Vital Records, including a baptismal certificate, her early school records, Social Security documents, and other proof required for a "delayed birth certificate." An added client benefit in this case was that once tribal membership was established, the client’s grandchildren were able to access educational benefits.

On average, CLS assists with approximately 500 such complex identification cases per year. Specifically, in the past year, CLS opened 445 ID cases. Further, MCR helped an additional 4,000 people. Throughout the life of the ID Project, and with the considerable help provided by MCR, the ID Project has assisted approximately 15,000 individuals in obtaining the documentation they need to receive essential services, housing, and employment.

Outreach and Community Education

Not only does the ID Project represent clients in complex identification cases, but it also serves the community through outreach and education. Specifically, the ID Project staff provides presentations and workshops to educate providers and other nonprofit agencies regarding identification requirements and how their staff can assist applicants in need of IDs. For example, several times per year, staff and volunteers from the ID Project participate in the Veterans Stand Down and Project Homeless Connect.1 These events provide multiple services to hundreds of people, but the lines for IDs are almost always the longest, and many people leave with payment vouchers for IDs or Colorado birth certificates, or with receipts after ordering out-of-state birth certificates. Others begin the CLS intake process for full legal representation by ID Project staff. Outreach efforts are also enhanced by the ID Project’s website at, which had almost 6,000 "hits" during 2013, and an ongoing listserv, which assists more than 200 advocates and other participants.

The Future Depends on Funding

Although the ID Project has served a significant number of individuals over the years, there are still many more who need this legal assistance and, as Olson recently explained, "there’s really no one else to do it." CLS needs additional funding to meet the needs of low-income and homeless Coloradans across the state. Specifically, the ID Project primarily serves clients in the Denver metro area, but the hope is to expand the program to serve more low-income people outside the metro area. To do this, CLS needs to hire an attorney or experienced paralegal to assist with complex identification cases.

Further, to respond to the growing number of individuals needing identification to obtain essential services, CLS requires additional funding to pay for documents. CLS currently provides MCR $4,000 per month for documents, but typically that amount is fully expended within the first week of every month, because the cost of a Colorado birth certificate is $17.75 and the cost of out-of-state birth certificates ranges between $10 and $60. The ID Project also would like to coordinate additional outreach and education programs and, in the future, to both offer assistance to individuals requiring identification and provide self-help tools that will enable some people obtain their own records.

Finally, the need for additional funding is demonstrated by the fact that the cases worked on by CLS staff are often very costly. Even if the court cost for a simple legal name change can be waived, other related costs can amount to $150 or more. For example, replacement of a Certificate of Citizenship costs $600. As another example, the document cost alone for one particular case that required acquiring and translating foreign marriage and divorce decrees amounted to more than $1,000.

Currently, the ID Project is largely dependent on annual grants and contracts from the Colorado Health Foundation, the Denver Foundation, and Denver Human Services, as well as additional funding provided by CLS. Unfortunately, the resources available to CLS are currently unable to meet the vast need for assistance from the ID Project or through other CLS services. Over the last three years, CLS has lost more than $2 million in revenue as a result of public funding cuts and reduced COLTAF grants. CLS has replaced only a portion of that through emergency funding by the Colorado Supreme Court and other sources. It is true that new initiatives are underway to encourage more pro bono representation and to provide more self-help support for the increasing number of individuals seeking assistance through the ID Project or another CLS service. However, initiatives alone cannot replace an adequately funded and staffed legal aid program with lawyers who are immediately available when low-income individuals and families are in need and with experts in the problems and legal issues that confront them.


CLS is the place of last resort for low-income individuals and families, the disabled, and the elderly, whether they are seeking assistance in obtaining an ID or other civil legal services. These services are not only important to those served, but they also constitute a significant investment in communities across our state. Legal aid saves precious taxpayer dollars by keeping families together, preserving housing, ensuring access to healthcare, reducing domestic violence, and offering indigent citizens a way out of poverty. This economic benefit is more important than ever as governments and nonprofits alike struggle to meet growing demands for social services with increasingly limited budgets.

Attorneys are encouraged to participate in the Associates Campaign by establishing a 2014 Associates Campaign at their firm or office. Contact LAF’s Executive Director Diana Poole at (303) 863-9544 or for more information or to sign up. Donations also can be made directly to the LAF by visiting and selecting "Donate Now."


1. For more information about volunteering for Veterans Stand Down events in Colorado, contact the CBA Public Legal Education Department at (303) 860-1115. Information about volunteering for Project Homeless Connect in Denver is available on the CLC website at

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