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Why this group says immigrants here illegally should get NJ driver licenses

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The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice is calling on state lawmakers to expand eligibility for driver licenses for immigrants in the country illegally.

Members of the alliance, a statewide coalition of 30 faith, labor and community organizations that support immigrants’ rights, held a brief rally outside the Statehouse in Trenton on Monday.

“We really need to expand the driver’s licenses and access to driver’s licenses to others beyond just the current, regardless of immigration status,” said Johanna Calle, program coordinator for the alliance

She said the idea would be to create a separate category of a license, almost like a provisional license for new drivers.

“This type of license would not be used as a federal ID so you can’t fly in planes, you can’t enter federal buildings with it, but it can be used for the purpose of driving only,” she said.

Calle stressed in order to get this type of license,  immigrants “would be able to use their foreign passports or foreign ID to prove their identity, so you’re not really checking for immigration status, you’re just checking ‘Are you who you say you are?’ ‘Do you really live in our state?’”

She added this type of program would “mean folks who are currently driving without a license would be off the roads and would actually be tested properly rather than driving right now the way they are.”

She stressed a passport would be needed in order to secure one of these licenses.

“There are plenty of consulates in the state for folks who would be able to go get a passport, go get their own documentation. You’re not just going to be handing out licenses,” she said. “And it would be very beneficial because people are going to be able to now check in with the state and have a record of who they are.

“There are lot of people right now that are driving that have no driving record because they were not able to get a license.”

She also stressed applicants for this type of  license would have to go through the regular testing process.

Calle pointed out New Jersey has now the third-largest foreign-born population in the nation, and yet “the Garden State lags behind 11 states and Washington D.C. which current permit undocumented immigrant residents to apply for a driver’s license.”

Currently, the Motor Vehicle Commission uses the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements system to check the immigration status of anyone seeking a document. It will not issued documents to people whose status cannot be confirmed.

The issue has been debated before — including at a vigil outside the State House in 2015.

“I oppose giving driver’s licenses to individuals who cannot prove their lawful presence in the United States,”  Assemblyman Ron Dancer (R-Jackson) said a month before that. “This is a homeland security issue. It’s not about bringing more revenues into the State of New Jersey.”

Calle said we can’t keep federal agents out of our state and our cities, and we can’t obstruct the enforcement of immigration law “but what we can do is make sure our state and local resources are not being used for the purposes of federal law enforcement.”

She stressed state and local resources are very limited, and so “it does not make sense for them to be used in that kind of work.”

She said the alliance wants state officials to instruct local and state police to not work with federal immigration officers on enforcement.

“They won’t be checking for immigration status, they won’t be helping in raids, they won’t be doing that kind of work,” she said.

She explained in order for the federal government to crack down on undocumented immigrants the way that some members of the Trump administration have described, it’ll going to need more agents, and could may ask New Jersey local and state police to pitch in. But she argued that should not happen.

“The community needs to know the local police officer is there so they can report a crime. They’re not going to be afraid of the local police officer because they think they’re working with the federal government,” she said.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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