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NJ Legislation Aims to Tackle Issue of Undocumented Immigrants Driving Illegally

Illegal immigrants in New Jersey may soon be on the road – legally. Recent legislation introduced by Sen. Joe Vitale, D-19th of Woodbridge and Annette Quijano, D-20th of Elizabeth could finally address the issue of illegal immigrants driving without licenses or insurance.

Standard vs. REAL ID Licenses

The proposed legislation (S-3229 in the Senate and A-4743 in the Assembly) hopes to create two separate licenses for New Jersey state residents. One license would give residents the legal right to drive, while the other (REAL ID license) would also serve as a federally recognized form of identification. The REAL ID license would require minimum standards and procedures as well as a social security number, proof of age, and two documents proving state residency. Those with a REAL ID license would be permitted to enter military bases, secure federal facilities, nuclear power plants, and commercial airline flights. The standard driver’s license would still require proof of age and two documents proving New Jersey residency.

The Issue of Car Insurance

It has been a longstanding concern for illegal immigrants driving without insurance or a registered vehicle. Those who are involved in an accident may not have the coverage to help with any damages. This reality is something that Vitale believes we must address. “We can’t ignore the reality that undocumented immigrants are on the roads now, going to work, driving their children to school and doing the routine activities that all families do.” She believes that by not having them be licensed it creates a hazard on the road.

A Boost to the State Economy?

In addition to improving roadway safety, another big argument in favor of the legislation is that it would be good for the state’s economy, with almost 500,000 potentially qualifying. Additionally, supports believe that the legislation would improve the wellbeing of all families – especially those who would now be able to gain access. To obtain either driver’s license, residents would be required to pass a driving test, acquire car insurance, and pay a fee: $18 for a standard license and $29 for a REAL ID license, with discounts for seniors.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is in support of the legislation, agreeing with the reasoning in favor of it. “Allowing our undocumented immigrant community to obtain driver’s licenses is a critical step to help build a stronger and fairer New Jersey for all. This policy will make our roads safer for all drivers and also stimulate the economy.” However, not everyone is on board. In a joint statement Sen. Christopher Connors, Assemblyman Brian Rumpf, and Assemblywoman DiAnne Gove (all representing the 9th District) expressed that “there are the serious homeland security issues at stake which simply cannot be disregarded for the sake of political expediency.” Others in opposition of the legislation believe that it may incentivize more illegal immigrants to move to the state.

What the Future Holds

It should be interesting to see how the legislation progresses, if it progresses at all. All 80 seats of the Assembly will be up for election come next November. Political activists believe that this issue will remain off of the books during the election so as not to rock the boat with more controversial issues; The Governor has already pledged to make New Jersey a sanctuary state.

If the bills pass, New Jersey would join 12 other states that have expanded access to driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status.

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