ELIZABETH, NJ - Governor Phil Murphy today signed legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses.

The legislation, part of Murphy's progressive agenda, will allow an estimated 400,000 undocumented immigrants the right to apply for a license. New Jersey is the 15th state iin the nation to provide licenses for undocumented immigrants.

“Expanding access to driver’s licenses is critical for the safety of New Jerseyans and a step toward building a stronger and fairer New Jersey for all,” Murphy said.

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“Allowing residents the opportunity to obtain driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status will decrease the number of uninsured drivers and increase safety on our roads," Murphy said.

The bill was introduced last year, but languished in the Legislature until the lame duck session, when it sailed through both houses. Advocates such as Make the Road New Jersey, Wind of the Spirit, the Latino Action Network Foundation, the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the ACLU of New Jersey supported the bill. 

The legislation calls for the state to begin issuing licenses by January 2021.

“There are advocates in New Jersey that have been fighting for access to driver's licenses for more than 20 years,” said Adriana Abizadeh, executive director of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF). "As an organization focused on the inclusion of immigrants in this state, I am heartened by the progress we have made."

Make the Road New Jersey launched a website in Spanish to help educate Spanish-speaking residents of the state, said Olga Armas of Make the Road New Jersey.

“The new drivers license law is a landmark victory for immigrant communities who fought for years, and for road safety and families across New Jersey," Armas said. "We are launching LICENCIASNJ.ORG to help educate the community about the new law, and to make sure the nearly half million eligible New Jerseyans have access to correct, up to date information and do not fall prey to scams as we wait for the law to take affect.”

Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, a sponsor of the bill, said the new law will be life-changing for families across the state.

"It is extremely difficult to navigate this state without a car and like every New Jerseyan, they have jobs to get to, children to drop off at school and lives to live,” said Ruiz, a Democrat who represents parts of Newark and Belleville. 

“Not only will this law make our roads safer, it will also positively impact our economy and workforce," Ruiz said. "Other states that have approved similar legislation have seen a significant decrease in car insurance premiums and hit-and-run accidents. We expect to see the same here.”

Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez, who sponsored the legislation, said the new law will be transformative for families across the state.

"This legislation breaks down barriers that are holding back hardworking men and women trying to ensure their family’s financial security and provide opportunities to their children that were not afforded to them,” said Cruz-Perez, a Democrat who represents Camden.

“Getting behind the wheel is a privilege that is often assumed in the commonality of our daily lives, but for the undocumented community residing in New Jersey, access to the roadways offers is a path to new opportunities and an improved quality of life,"  Cruz-Perez said. 

The bill creates two categories of driver’s licenses and non-driver identification cards: federally-compliant REAL ID, which is only available for documented residents, and the Standard Basic driver’s license and ID, which will be available to all New Jersey residents regardless of immigration status. Anyone who applies for a Standard Basic driver’s license or ID, whether a citizen or non-citizen, must provide six points of identification. 

The bill prohibits insurance companies from charging a driver more for having a Standard Basic driver’s license, and prohibits employment, housing, and public-accommodation discrimination against an individual for holding a Standard Basic driver’s license or ID.

The legislation was approved earlier this week in the Assembly by a of 42-30-5 and the Senate by a vote of 21-17, along party lines. Republican lawmakers said the legislation opens the door to fraud and ignores the values of American citizenship.

“New Jersey families take a backseat to illegal immigrants under the Murphy administration,” said Testa (R-1). “Trenton Democrats prioritized handouts for illegals over lowering our sky-high property taxes and properly funding schools for our children. I will continue to fight this lunacy and prioritize making New Jersey more affordable for the hard-working legal residents of our great state.”

But Christian Estevez, president of the Latino Action Network, said Murphy's signing of the bill makes the state a more humane place to live for immigrants.

"The coming together of a wide range of constituencies made this possible," Estevez said. "It challenges the tone of intolerance set by President Trump at the national level."