A bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses in New Jersey heads to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk after it was approved Monday by both houses of the Legislature.

The bill was introduced last year and was pushed by immigration advocates, such as Make the Road New Jersey. The bill languished in the Legislature, but was fast-tracked in the lame duck legislature. Murphy has previously indicated he supported the bill.

Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, a sponsor of the bill, said the legislation will be life changing for more than 400,000 undocumented immigrants and their 168,000 children.

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“These are mothers and fathers striving to make a better life for their children,” said Ruiz, a Democrat who represents Belleville and parts of Newark, which has a large population of undocumented immigrants. 

“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,” Ruiz said. “Not only will this bill make our roads safer, it will also positively impact our economy and workforce. 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.”

The legislation passed 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.

"How does giving illegal immigrants, who we know have already broken the law once, an official government document going to make us safer?" asked Ron Dancer, a Republican representing Ocean County. 

"The Democrats know it is complete nonsense and that is why they had to fast-track this piece of terrible legislation that will lay out the welcome mat for illegal immigrants wanting an ID for nefarious purposes," Dancer said.

However, the ACLU, which supported the legislation, said it would increase opportunities for New Jerseyans by ensuring that all qualified drivers are tested and insured regardless of age, gender identity, or immigration status.

"The legislation advanced on the Assembly floor and by the Senate today is fair and responsible. It brings us one-step closer to ensuring all motor vehicles and drivers are insured thereby creating safer roadways for all New Jersey residents.

“Our state will be stronger once this common-sense reform becomes a reality,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Farrin Anello. “Expanding driver’s license access to every qualified person strengthens public safety, bolsters our economy, and, most importantly, treats all New Jersey residents with dignity and respect. When all drivers in New Jersey are licensed and insured, everyone benefits.” 

The bill creates a two-tier system for driver's licenses and identification cards.

A standard license would require proof of residency in New Jersey, proof of age, and their social security number. If the individual does not have a social security number, the bill would permit them to submit their individual Tax Identification Number, or indicate that they are ineligible for a social security number.

The second type of license, a REAL ID, would require proof of residency in New Jersey, proof of age, proof of the applicant’s social security number and proof that the applicant’s presence in the United States is authorized under federal law. 

A REAL ID would comply with the federal “REAL ID Act of 2005” that requires applicants to submit more documentation than is currently required to obtain a driver’s license in New Jersey. 

A REAL ID could be used to access federal government facilities or board domestic flights.