Vote to give N.J. driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants may happen soon

Posted Nov 09, 2019

Proponents of a plan that would allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses, say now is the time to get it done.

With the election over, lawmakers will be back in Trenton for a lame-duck session in the coming weeks and there’s a renewed push to send a bill to the desk of Gov. Phil Murphy, who has long supported the measure.

“It’s vitally important,” said state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, one of the prime sponsors of the bill (S3229).

She argued these licenses are long overdue "because we know these families contribute to the economic development and vibrancy of who we are in this state. They’re our neighbors, they’re our partners, and they are part of New Jersey.”

There are more than 466,000 undocumented immigrants of driving age in New Jersey, according to a 2018 study by left-leaning think tank NJ Policy Perspective.

“The safest drivers are the ones that are trained, tested and licensed,” Ruiz, D-Essex, said.

Proponents say special licenses will make it easier for undocumented immigrants to get to work, take their children to the doctor, and buy groceries. Plus, they argue, the licenses would improve safety because many undocumented immigrants are already driving without insurance and registration. This would allow them to obtain those documents — and may even help lower insurance premiums for everyone in the state.

“They’re on our roads. They’re working in different places,” state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said in an interview last year. "So it’s something that we’re going to have to address. We’ve just have to figure out how we do it in the right way.”

In the Assembly, Speaker Craig Coughlin, has indicated he’s willing to take the measure. But in a statement, he suggested more needs to be done before it will come up for a vote.

“We’re eager to be back in Trenton working on issues important to the people of New Jersey,” Coughlin, D-Middlesex, said.

“The legislation to expand access to driver’s licenses to more residents remains a work in progress,” he said. "I look forward to a thoughtful and thorough review of the final product at which time the bill will go through the standard legislative process.”

Proponents of the measure have worked on the matter for years. And it has plenty of opposition, particularly from GOP lawmakers.

When a similar proposal was floated last year, a trio of Republicans issued a statement that condemned the idea that the state would provide licenses to people who “cannot prove lawful presence in the United States.”

“Since this issue was first raised during the Corzine administration, our delegation has maintained its vehement opposition to giving driver’s licenses to illegal aliens,” state Sen. Christopher Connors, R-Ocean, Assemblyman Brian Rumpf, R-Ocean, and Assemblywoman DiAnne Gove, R-Ocean, said.

New Jersey would join at least a dozen other states that grant licenses to undocumented immigrants if the measure is passed and signed by the governor.

The other states with such programs are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Vermont and Washington.

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