Amid ICE raids, NJ lawmakers rush to give licenses to immigrants here illegally
TRENTON — There have been few issues that divide New Jersey more than illegal immigration.
Gov. Phil Murphy has declared ours a "sanctuary state," and recently substantially limited cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents unless ordered to do so by a judge. That triggered a harsh response from ICE, which vowed more raids in New Jersey to find undocumented immigrants wanted for serious crimes.
As a result, ICE warned, individuals who otherwise would not be on their radar would get caught in those raids. ICE recently completed a series of sweeps across New Jersey, taking almost 90 into custody. Among those arrested: several wanted by INTERPOL for crimes in their home countries. More raids are expected in the weeks and months ahead.
In Trenton, state lawmakers are racing to complete action on a bill that would grant licenses to immigrants in the country illegally. Pro-immigrant and progressive groups launched a campaign in January to pressure lawmakers to take action on an idea that failed to make it into law in 2015.
Following a prayer service in Trenton Monday morning, key lawmakers will meet with those groups. Gov. Murphy supports the bills (A4743/S3229), and Senate President Steve Sweeney has said he will post them for a vote. However, rank-and-file lawmakers are not fully on board and, as of now, there are not enough votes to pass.
It is the unintended consequences that have given some legislators pause, as well as a public that is uneasy with expanding benefits given to those here illegally. Among the unintended consequences: the security of our digitized driver license.
Once considered the most secure license in the nation, the NJ license may soon not be accepted as ID to board a plane. The Motor Vehicle Commission has struggled to enact requirements of the "REAL ID Act" to maintain the security of our driver license. There are those who worry that offering a license to those who cannot prove their identities will further erode the credibility of the NJ license.
There are also concerns about some undocumented immigrants using their licenses to open bank accounts, secure credit cards, or complete other financial transactions that could lead to fraud. Supporters of the bills dismiss such concerns and "fear-mongering."
A vote on the license bill is likely by the end of the year, as legislative leaders twist arms and get more caucus members on board. It would also be a rare victory for Gov. Murphy, whose administration has struggled to find any wins during the first year of his term.
Eric Scott is Vice President, Senior Political Director and Director of Special Projects for New Jersey 101.5. He anchors "New Jersey's First News" and weekday morning newscasts from 5 to 10 a.m., in addition to hosting a monthly Town Hall series.
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