New push to give unauthorized immigrants NJ driver’s licenses
TRENTON — A member of the state Assembly is hoping with a new governor will come a new opportunity to get undocumented immigrants legal permission to drive.
Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union, said she is reintroducing the New Jersey Safe and Responsible Drivers Act, which would allow people who live in New Jersey but who cannot prove residency to get driver's licenses. The bill had originally been submitted in 2015, and while Quijano said this version has some differences, it has the same goal.
"The purpose of this bill is to enhance road safety by ensuring that all drivers are properly tested and licensed, and are driving vehicles that are registered and insured," she said in a statement.
She first introduced a similar bill in 2015, which she said would "require the MVC to issue driving privilege cards to applicants who are New Jersey residents, but cannot provide proof of their authorized presence in the United States."
"We all benefit from having people on the road who are registered and insured," Quijano said. "A serious car accident with an uninsured driver can make a bad situation worse. Ensuring that all New Jersey drivers are knowledgeable of traffic laws, have been tested for driving ability and are insured can help reduce fatal road accidents and decrease the number of uninsured motorists that flee from accident scenes."
She said with more than 500,000 undocumented residents in New Jersey, having "large segments of our population living in the shadows is not productive."
She said the original bill would have required applicants to affirm in writing that they did not have a criminal history in New Jersey or other places. Opponents of the bill said it would raise security concerns and reward people for violating immigration law. One of the biggest opponents was Gov. Chris Christie, who said he would veto the bill if it reached his desk.
"I am disturbed by the Legislature even considering making undocumented individuals eligible for New Jersey driver's licenses," he said in a statement. "As a former United States Attorney, I know that the driver's license is the single most important piece of homeland security identification. Yet, the Legislature proposes giving that to people with no definitive proof of their identity."
Christie said to have such a law on the books "is not only irresponsible, but dangerous."
Quijano said she hoped the administration of Gov.-elect Phil Murphy would be more amenable to the bill.
"I look forward to finally having a partner in the Governor's Office who understands the importance of solving this critical issue," she said. "We will work together to ensure that we write the best legislation for the people of new Jersey."
As she works to introduce the new bill ahead of the new administration, Quijano said she hopes this will be a new chapter in an ongoing issue in the state.
"We know that many in the undocumented community are fearful of law enforcement, which is not good for residents or the police," she said. "This would help break some of that fear and build trust so that residents feel more comfortable reporting accidents or crimes."
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com