In 1992, the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles briefly offered driver’s licenses to immigrants living in this country illegally and the situation turned into a disaster. Thousands of immigrants, some from other states, showed up at DMV offices, causing major delays and confusion.

(Mulecan, ThinkStock)
(Mulecan, ThinkStock)

The program was terminated 27 days after it started.

NJ Sen. Joe Vitale is the prime sponsor of new legislation to allow immigrants who are in the country illegally to obtain New Jersey driver's licenses. He insists that scenario will not be repeated if his bill is passed and signed into law.

On Wednesday, Townsquare Media asked Sen. Vitale about the proposed legislation.

Would there be long lines and big delays at Jersey MVC offices if these licenses were offered?

“No, it would not be like what happened in New Jersey in 1992 when immigrants came from out of state. Applicants would have to demonstrate they actually live here and work here for a matter of months, providing a lease or utility bills for a period of months,” Vitale said.

Would illegal immigrants applying for one of these licenses have to provide six points of identification, like New Jersey residents who are U.S. citizens?

“Yes, but It would be fashioned in a different way," Vitale said. "It wouldn’t just be a utility bill, it would be a combination of things like that, we’d be following the California model which provides for that."

The California illegal immigrant drivers license law, which went into effect earlier this year, requires applicants to prove their identity using a combination of documents, including a current foreign passport or consular ID or an expired foreign passport and foreign birth certificate, translated by the consulate. Applicants must also provide one of the following documents: a lease, utility bill, tax return, medical record or a record of a financial institution or school. The law stipulates other documents may be used, to be determined by DMV employee.

Would this driver’s license allow illegal immigrants to vote?

“No. Absolutely not, it couldn’t be used to vote, it couldn’t be used to get a passport if they didn’t have one, absolutely not," Vitale said.

Could the driver’s license be used to get on an airplane, rent a car or open a bank account?

“They can open up a bank account, they wouldn’t be able to get on an airplane, because you need a passport and other documents," Vitale said. "So look, it would seem to me that whatever requirements a citizen has to board an airplane, this person would have to have the same information, but that would be accepted by them (TSA).”

How would the license impact the integrity and security of New Jersey’s regular digitized driver’s license?

“This is a separate animal, just for these individuals, and it’s limited to just driving. There’s no threat to our security and we were very diligent in making sure that the law would protect everyone’s safety and security,” the senator said.

Vitale said his proposed legislation would give the chief administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission leeway when it comes to what documentation could be used in specific instances.

"This can evolve over time, and there might be other ways in which someone can identify themselves as a resident," Vitale said.

He adds if MVC officials don’t feel requirements are strong enough in the bill, they can increase the requirements,

“This will give those individuals who are on the road now driving unsafe vehicles, uninsured, uninspected, the ability to cure that,” he said. “This proposed legislation will let lawful Jersey residents know the people driving next to them have a car that is maintained safely, that it’s inspected, that it’s registered and they’re paying insurance just like the rest of us. This does not say it’s okay to be here illegally, but they are here, so we want to make sure the people driving on our roads, that live here are doing it in a manner that’s safe.”

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