NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - The people who gathered on the steps of City Hall on Monday called themselves immigrants or children of immigrants. Others called themselves dreamers.
Their American Dreams, they said, have been threatened because they or their loved ones have been cut off from accessing driver's licenses.
They gathered together at this rally - along with Mayor Jim Cahill, representatives from Rutgers and leaders from community organizations - to call on lawmakers to advance a legislation aimed at expanding access to driver's licenses regardless of immigration status.
About 50 people attended, some brandishing signs in the shape of traffic lights or traffic signs with pleas aimed at lawmakers. Other times, they chanted "The people united will not be defeated."
They touted the efforts of Let's Drive NJ and asked for the state's lawmakers to move forward on legislation (4743 in the Assembly and 3229 in the Senate) that would expand access to driver’s licenses to more residents.
Others said they are worried that they will be shut out by the Real ID Act that will also make them and their families prey for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents because their personal information will be scanned and stored in a Motor Vehicle Commission database.
The people on the steps of City Hall were people like Josue Serrano of UndocuRutgers. As the son of immigrants, he ended up being able to get his driver's license through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy - whose future is in jeopardy.
"My license allowed me to get to class since I was in high school and support my parents,"
he said. "My parents themselves are small-business owners who could lose everything if they are stopped for a simple traffic violation. This fear keeps me and fellow young immigrants awake at night that in an instance we could be separated from our parents, our most vital supporters."
Serrano read a statement prepared by Rutgers President Robert Barchi, who pledged his university's support to make driver’s licenses more accessible.
Among the other speakers on Monday were former Edison mayor Jun Choi, Indonesian refugee Harry Pangemanan and Rabbi Maya Glasser of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick.
Mayor Cahill said that giving more immigrants access to driver's licenses could add $90 million to New Jersey's economy and make our roads safer by eliminating scores of unlicensed drivers. He also pointed out that the issue goes beyond immigration status.
"It is also negatively impacts victims of domestic violence, who in the process of escaping their abusive situations, may not have access to records," he said. "It also continues the cycle of punishment. For those formerly incarcerated, who even after paying their debt to society are unable to obtain a license upon release, essentially elongating their sentences and denying an essential tool in their effective reintegration and workforce development? And, in a society that continues to be more friendly toward and inclusive of our LGBTQ community, there are still barriers in place that make accessing the documents to apply for a license more difficult and needlessly cumbersome."
About two and a half years ago, New Brunswick became one of a handful of municipalities across the state to issue its own municipal identification cards. These cards could be used in registering children for school, going to one of the two city hospitals and in all municipal buildings including the police station.
"That program is going very well," Cahill said. "We issued a few thousand municipal ID cards. They certainly are very helpful here locally and in many instances, beyond. It's not the same thing as having a driver's license or a state-issued license that would be recognized well beyond the boundaries of the city of New Brunswick."