MVC stumbling again, and 440,000 New Jerseyans could be stuck at home | Editorial

Posted Sep 23, 2020

It’s undeniable that Motor Vehicle Commission chief Sue Fulton has a lot on her plate this fall, with her agency still digging out from the massive caseload that piled up during its three-month shutdown.

Now comes another chapter in the MVC’s endless cycle of what-fresh-hell-can-this-be, and Fulton’s response will determine whether 440,000 New Jerseyans can obtain the driver’s licenses they were promised by Gov. Murphy and Fulton herself.

These people are undocumented immigrants, and in December — before an electrified audience in Elizabeth — the governor and his MVC chief were showered with rose petals as he signed a law that created a standard driver’s license for this group. We became the 15th state to grant this privilege.

But with the launch date just four months way, the MVC created a bureaucratic roadblock with regulations that would force the undocumented to reveal themselves to federal authorities, something they are loath to do.

Murphy and Fulton don’t need to be reminded why this process needs a fix. They know many undocumented immigrants already drive in the shadows, which makes them a public safety risk because they didn’t take road tests, they lack insurance, and their cars are probably unregistered.

We know what 14 other states know: Licensing this population makes our roads safer and their lives more meaningful, because now they can drive their kids to school, to church, to soccer practice, to a hospital in an emergency.

Included in the Fulton’s regulations, however, is a requirement that individuals who don’t qualify for a Social Security Number (SSN) — such as unauthorized immigrants — must obtain a Tax ID number (ITIN) or a letter from the Social Security Agency confirming that they are not eligible for a SSN.

Only Colorado has such a requirement. The other 13 states know that undocumented immigrants aren’t likely to reach out to federal agencies. Many would choose to drive illegally rather than risk deportation.

It’s a deal-breaker: “The MVC’s rule would interfere with the Legislature’s intent by rendering the new driver’s license largely inaccessible for hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans,” said Sen. Nellie Pou, D-Passaic.

Another sponsor, Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, has asked Fulton to cut through this red tape by following the examples set in New York and California, where they allow unauthorized applicants to sign an affidavit stating they are ineligible for a Social Security number, then have it notarized.

That is a sensible solution, and it deserves the attention of the governor and the MVC, which has received 1,400 public comments at its website since the regulations were issued in June.

The MVC says it is “reviewing and considering” each comment, which is consistent with Fulton’s rhetoric. She gave a rousing speech during the bill singing, a stem-winder that concluded with “Yo estoy trabajando y contuare trabajando para ayudar preserver la promesa del sueno Americo para todos!”

Translation: “I will continue to work to help preserve the promise of the American dream for all!”

The American dream does not take place in the shadows. As the ACLU put it, her regs will “undermine the purposes of this landmark legislation.”

This must be fixed, partly because our undocumented neighbors have been through enough this year. Many are essential frontline workers — janitors and farm hands and retail workers and Dreamers who were excluded from any federal stimulus money that most families received, even though they pay $600 million in state and local taxes every year and more than $1 billion in federal taxes.

They weren’t allowed to collect unemployment, even though they pay the payroll tax that funds it.

And they can’t receive food stamps, even though half have children who are citizens.

Murphy even bailed out on them, and left them out of his last budget. The least he can do is take down barriers and make it easier for them to make their own way, but that often requires a driver’s license.

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published this page in News and Politics 2020-09-24 02:59:05 -0700