Unauthorized Immigrants May Soon Get NJ Driver’s Licenses
ELIZABETH — Immigrants who aren’t in the country legally ought to be able to drive legally, according to backers of a campaign that launched Thursday to push lawmakers to create a new restricted driver’s license for undocumented immigrants.
The Let’s Drive NJ campaign picks up where a bill that stalled in 2015 left off and joins a list of policy changes jockeying for the immediate attention of Democratic Gov.-elect Phil Murphy, who takes office Tuesday.
“With a progressive governor who publicly has committed himself to doing so in his first year, we’re optimistic that it could happen,” said Erica Nava, a policy analyst for New Jersey Policy Perspective.
In 2015, the idea was endorsed by the Assembly homeland security committee but wasn’t taken up by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Gov. Chris Christie said he’d veto it, but Murphy promised the license and statewide ID for the undocumented as a candidate.
“We are very optimistic that this time around, it will cross the finish line,” Nava said.
The bill’s supporters say the change would make all New Jerseyans safer because more drivers would be trained and pass driving and written tests.
“Plus, being insured as well. If you get into a car accident, having people who are insured would help with the cost of the accident,” Nava said.
There are an estimated 466,000 undocumented immigrants in New Jersey who are of driving age, and NJPP thinks half would get licenses within three years. Nava said “a percentage of them are driving without a license” now to complete their daily activities.
Among them could be around 22,000 people who currently are eligible for licenses as one of the benefits under the federal Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA, which is scheduled to be phased out in March.
Twelve states have similar licenses, which could help not just undocumented immigrants but others who have trouble meeting the 6-point ID system – groups such as college students, senior citizens or victims or violence.
The statement “Federal Limits Apply” would be written on the front of the license in a small size, and the back of the card would say: “This card is not acceptable for official federal purposes. This license is issued only as a license to drive a motor vehicle. It does not establish eligibility for employment, voter registration, or public benefits.”
Nava said it would be what’s called a limited license. “It could not be used for federal purposes. It could not be used to board an airplane. It could only be used for driving and to serve as an ID,” she said.
Thursday night, Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union, and allies launched their campaign at an Elizabeth rally. Among the participants was new Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex.
Quijano is the bill’s chief sponsor but no longer chairs the homeland security committee. However the panel’s new leader, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, is also among the 15 sponsors and cosponsors of the bill, A1738.