Christie: I’ll veto drivers licenses for immigrants here illegally
On Monday, the New Jersey Assembly Homeland Security Committee approved legislation that would permit immigrants who are not in the United States legally to obtain New Jersey driver's licenses, but Gov. Chris Christie made it crystal clear he would never sign the measure.
Sponsors of the bill said Garden State roads would be safer, and the state would see more revenue through auto insurance sales and fees, if these immigrants were allowed to get licenses without having to prove their legal status.
Committee chairperson and co-sponsor of the bill, Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Elizabeth), said New Jersey is home to over 500,000 people who are here illegally. That makes up 6 percent of the state's total population and 8 percent of the labor force. She said unlicensed drivers don't have training or insurance, and they are five times more likely to be in a fatal car crash -- and 10 times more likely to flee the scene of an accident.
Quijano said her legislation would address these issues, but there were also things the bill wouldn't do.
"This limited license would not be given away by the state; it must be earned just like everyone else's licenses," she said. "This bill will not grant legal status to undocumented persons residing in the state. This is not a Social Security card, and it does not make individuals United States citizens.”
The bill does require New Jersey residents who are undocumented to be tested, trained, licensed and insured, and Quijano said that would help produce new revenue for the state. Monday's two-and-a-half-hourlong hearing was still going on when Christie released a statement leaving no doubt that he didn't support the legislation at all.
"I am disturbed by the legislature even considering making undocumented individuals eligible for New Jersey driver's licenses," the governor wrote. "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. To consider doing this in the current environment is not only irresponsible, but dangerous. If it were to ever reach my desk, it would be vetoed immediately."
Under the bill that Christie vowed to veto, a state driver's license for someone who is in the country illegally would be valid for four years, and any person applying for this type of license would be required to pay all license fees. Additionally, the Motor Vehicle Commission would be allowed to charge an additional fee of no more than $50 per license to offset administrative costs.
"Since the reality is that many undocumented immigrants are already driving on our roads and highways, it is time that we join the dozen states that allow them driver's licenses," said bill co-sponsor, Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City).
The two Republicans on the committee echoed the governor's concerns about homeland security if these licenses were issued.
Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Westwood) said fingerprinting and criminal background checks should be required, and there should be a waiting period if the bill was to be seriously considered. She also said it should be made clear that the licenses couldn't be used to get on commercial flights.
Schepisi and Assemblyman Dave Wolfe (R-Brick) voted against the legislation.
Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter at @kevinmcardle1.