A grassroots campaign in New Jersey for a state law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses and register motor vehicles is gaining traction within county and local governments. This is in large part because its promoters claim it would help reduce insurance rates and make the roads safer for all drivers.
The proposed law, NJ Assembly Bill A-4425, would require the state Motor Vehicle Commission to issue a license to anyone who qualifies for a license under current state law, regardless of whether the applicant can prove he or she is lawfully in the United States. The bill entails that undocumented immigrants pass the same written and road tests as other drivers and pay the same fees. It would also allow, but not require, the Commission to impose an additional fee of up to $50 for undocumented immigrant drivers. The measure is co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Annette Quijano of Union County and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora of Mercer County.
Campaign Launched by New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice
To build support for the proposed law, a coalition of 22 church, labor, and immigration groups called the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice has launched a campaign to obtain resolutions from county and city governments supporting the proposed law.
To date, resolutions supporting the law have been adopted by the Union County Board of Freeholders and by councils in eight cities: Jersey City, Dover, New Brunswick, Plainfield, Perth Amboy, Camden, Elizabeth, and Bridgeton. The Alliance is reportedly seeking resolutions from additional cities and counties, all for the purpose of pressuring the state legislators and New Jersey’s governor to approve the proposed law.
The Alliance members are promoting the proposed law by arguing that it would reduce the number of unlicensed and uninsured drivers; ensure that vehicles are inspected; and help lower insurance costs by adding more drivers to the insurance risk pools. Reducing the number of unlicensed drivers and unregistered and uninsured vehicles would, according to the Alliance, make New Jersey roads safer for all drivers.
The campaign for approval of the proposed law is bolstered by activity in other states, ten of which now give driving privileges to undocumented immigrants. Six of the states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, New Mexico and Washington – provide undocumented immigrants with the same licenses as U.S. citizens. Illinois law allows immigrants to obtain temporary visitors’ licenses. Nevada, Utah, and Vermont allow immigrants to obtain driving privilege cards. Puerto Rico permits them to obtain provisional licenses, and Washington, D.C. grants undocumented immigrants the same licenses as citizens.
Pending Bill in New Jersey Regarding Driver Licenses for Immigrants
The bill now pending in the New Jersey Assembly would provide immigrants with the same licenses as U.S. citizens. An earlier version of the legislation, proposed in 2014, would have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain driving privilege cards, distinct from driver’s licenses, from the state. The Alliance opposes any proposal that would create a separate type or category of license for immigrants.
The prospects for enactment of the proposed legislation seem cloudy. While the Alliance is building support for the legislation with local authorities, the proposal must still win approval from the state Assembly and Senate, and also pass muster with Gov. Chris Christie, who has publicly expressed his opposition to the idea of giving licenses to undocumented immigrants.
For now, undocumented immigrants should be aware of current New Jersey law regarding driver’s licenses. To obtain a New Jersey driver’s license, a citizen must provide two types of identification, a social security number, and proof of his or her address. The proof of identification must include one “primary” document, typically a birth certificate, and one or more “secondary” documents — such as a marriage certificate, a school photo ID, or a government employee ID. The ID documents are required to prove citizenship.
Currently, New Jersey issues drivers’ licenses to non-citizens, but a non-citizen must present documentation to show that he or she is in the country legally, typically as a resident alien, or with a passport and work permit.
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