NJ lawmakers: ‘Time is now’ for licenses for unauthorized immigrants
TRENTON — Lawmakers returned to the Statehouse for their first meetings since the election Thursday – and were met by hundreds of protesters calling for action in the next two months on allowing immigrants who may be in the country illegally to get special driver’s licenses in New Jersey.
The idea is supported by Gov. Phil Murphy but stalled in the Democrat-controlled Legislature, though multiple lawmakers said there has long been an understanding it would come to a vote during the post-election lame-duck session.
“I know and I know you know this time has been a long time coming,” said state Sen. Nellie Pou, D-Passaic. “Some of the many undocumented communities have been patiently waiting, pushing, organizing and preparing for the next few weeks. As I said, the time is now.”
“We are doing this because it’s the right thing to do, and now is the time to do that,” Pou said.
Immigrant children registered under the DACA program have access to driver’s licenses – but the Supreme Court next week will hear oral arguments in lawsuits seeking to prevent President Donald Trump from ending the program.
That has Adriana Gomez, a teacher who moved to the United States from Mexico at age 2, worried she will lose her license and urging New Jersey to act immediately to expand access to driver’s licenses.
“Without this license, I may lose my job. I will no longer be able to drive my father to his doctor’s appointments or to work,” Gomez said. “This is a reality for so many Dreamers like me in New Jersey.”
State Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, said the rules around driver’s licenses should be reevaluated for undocumented immigrants and other groups of people, such as those re-entering society after serving prison sentences. She said more than 700,000 people in New Jersey cannot get a license.
“The time is now. We have to do this now,” Cunningham said. “Too many lives are destroyed because of a simple thing such as a driver’s license.”
Three senators and one Assembly member, all of them Democrats, addressed the rally outside the Statehouse Annex.
“For the past months, we have heard that once the election was over, this issue would be dealt with. It’s time,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic.
“With passage of this bill, we will make New Jersey safer,” he said. “And more than that, we will make New Jersey a place where everyone is welcome, where everyone is regarded for what they should be – not from one area or another, but from one united state.”
Pou said the reality is that undocumented immigrants drive on New Jersey roads every day and that it would be safer if they were trained and insured.
“Research shows that unlicensed drivers are 10 times more likely than licensed ones to flee the scenes of a motor vehicle collision and are five times more likely to be involved in fatal collisions,” Pou said. “This should not be OK with anyone. We are going to get this done because as lawmakers, our first priority is safety, and this is the most responsible action that we can take.”