TRENTON – The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission has pumped the brakes on its process for getting driver's licenses to immigrants living in the country illegally, citing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A written statement issued Monday said that the launch of the new licensing system "will be delayed from the original Jan. 1 date. No new date has been announced, as the MVC continues to monitor the impact of the Public Health Emergency on its operations."

"We are deeply disappointed that after more than a year since the law (authorizing such driver's licenses) was passed, MVC chose to delay implementation of the drivers license expansion," Make the Road New Jersey said in its own statement issued on Monday.

The immigrants rights coalition continued: "Nearly a half million immigrants and their families fought for years to win access to a license. During this upcoming winter, due to the pandemic, the ability to drive will be a question of life or death for many families that need to socially distance."

Legislation passed in late 2019 creates two classes of license. One is compliant with federal REAL ID standards, and will ultimately be the only sort of license that can be used to fly on a plane or enter a federal facility. Applicants for those licenses will have to prove they have a legal right to live in the U.S. and New Jersey.

The other is a standard license -- similar to the ones most NJ residents have now -- and will be available to all Garden State residents, regardless of immigration status.

"Status-neutral licensing is important for many New Jerseyans, but the demands on MVC due to COVID-19 have made it impossible for us to complete the training and software changes required to implement it," MVC Chief Administrator Sue Fulton said in the same statement.

Fulton noted that in recent months, most transactions have shifted to online, while customer demand remains high and staffing has been reduced due to coronavirus.

“We cannot conduct the necessary hands-on document training without violating COVID-19 restrictions; in addition, the stand-downs for training would impact our critical operations,” Fulton said. “We are hopeful that we will get past the worst of the pandemic in the next few months so we can get this done for those who sorely need it.”

The MVC said Fulton was unavailable for further comment on Monday afternoon.

Last year, supporters said the new, two-tiered license system will make the roads safer, while critics argued that it would reward those who were breaking the law, by living in the United States. illegally.

In the same Make the Road NJ statement issued Monday by Director Sara Cullinane, the group urged Fulton and Murphy to work swiftly to finalize regulations that allow every qualified New Jerseyan to access a license "as soon as possible."

Hera Mir, an Advocate with the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, similarly called the delay announcement "very frustrating and disappointing for immigrant community members."

"This delay is not something to be taken lightly, especially during the pandemic when people need to drive to be able to remain socially distant in order to get to where they need to go. Yet, more than 450,000 New Jersey residents and their family members are waiting to be able to apply for a standard driver’s license. While it is helpful that the MVC has issued an official notice of the delays, there are still many questions that need to be answered," Mir said in a written statement to New Jersey 101.5.

Mir continued "The sooner the MVC provides updated information, the better informed all New Jersey residents will be about what to expect. For immigrant communities, this is vital, because of the pandemic but also because misinformation about the rules for accessing a driver’s license has been used to take advantage of immigrants who need a driver’s license."

With previous reporting by Michael Symons and David Matthau

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