Advocates push back on NJ plan for immigrant license documents
TRENTON — Immigration advocacy groups are opposed to the way the Murphy administration proposes to administer the new standard driver’s licenses available starting in January to approximately 450,000 New Jerseyans who are not legal residents.
The state Motor Vehicle Commission has proposed a rule that says applicants who don’t have a Social Security number must either submit proof they have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number from the IRS or an official letter from the Social Security Administration showing they’re ineligible for a number.
Maneesha Kelkar, interim director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said the requirement for Social Security Administration letters could leave out half the residents the law is intended to benefit. She said approaching the SSA would be “fraught with danger,” given President Donald Trump’s strong opposition to illegal immigration.
“Under a xenophobic federal administration, the consequences of going to a federal agency could mean having your information shared with ICE,” Kelkar said. “We must address this critical issue in these regulations, which have veered off course from what the statute intended.”
“New Jersey residents regardless of their immigration status finally have a chance at driving safely on the roads in New Jersey,” she said. “However, that depends on where we are headed with these proposed regulations.”
Under a law approved in December 2019, New Jersey will become the 15th state to make unauthorized immigrants eligible for a driver’s license. The state is creating a new category of driver’s license separate from those that are REAL ID compliant and available to anyone who needs or prefers it.
“Our hope is that the regulations remain within the intent of the legislation that was passed to grant driver licenses to immigrants,” said Cuqui Rivera, executive secretary of the Latino Action Network, who said the current plan would leave immigrant applicants “overburdened by process.”
The proposal doesn’t appear inconsistent with the text of the law, which says that in addition to submitting satisfactory proof of age and identity through “six points” of documentation, applicants who don’t have a Social Security number must either provide proof of an ITIN or “indicate in a manner prescribed by the commission and consistent with all other provisions of (that law) that the person is not eligible to receive a social security number.”
Advocates say an attestation from the applicant should be sufficient without sending people to the Social Security Administration.
They also say the list of acceptable documents to prove one’s identity should be expanded to include ones more available to people who are survivors of domestic violence, re-entering society from prison or have documents from another country.
“We need to ensure that this law lives up to its promise,” said Farrin Anello, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.
“Ensuring that we don’t have unreasonable and arbitrary requirements that deter people from applying, that create unreasonable delays in the process or create unreasonable costs and expenses that will mean that people who are struggling to make ends have to forego the ability to get a driver’s license,” she said.
The public has until Sept. 18 to submit comments about the rule proposal.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.