Legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's license cleared a key Senate committee today.

The bill, S-3229, sponsored by Democratic Senators M. Teresa Ruiz, Joseph Vitale and Nilsa Cruz-Perez, passed the Senate Transportation Committee on a 5-2 vote along party lines.

Ruiz said there are 168,000 children with undocumented parents in New Jersey and more than 400,000 undocumented immigrants of driving age. 

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“This legislation is going to be life changing for hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans," said Ruiz, who testified Thursday at the Transportation Committee hearing. 

"They are mothers and fathers striving to make a better life for their children," Ruiz said. "They have jobs to get to, children to drop off and pick up, and errands to run. Like anyone else, they need to be able to get around. Today’s bill to provide them access to driver’s licenses will reduce their chances of encountering legal troubles while trying to make a living, while also making the roads safer for all New Jerseyans.”

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka also testified at the hearing, telliing committee members that Newark had enacted a municipal ID a couple of years ago to ensure residents felt safe and secure.

"However, the Municipal ID is not enough, we have folks who are driving because they must, because they have to, and if they are going to be on the road, I believe they should have a license to do that," Baraka said. "It’s just a right thing to do.” 

The bill was introduced more than a year ago and has been pushed by immigration advocates such as Make the Road New Jersey. Gov. Phil Murphy, a supporter of the controversial legislation, angered Democrats when he urged its passage in during the final weeks of the Assembly  campaign this fall. Critics of the legislation oppose giving undocumented immigrants drivers licenses.

However, now that the election is over, the legislation appears to be headed for swift passage in the lame duck legislative session.

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. 
"This legislation breaks down barriers that have held back hardworking men and women trying to provide for their families, trying to ensure financial security and stability for tomorrow, and just simply trying to provide opportunities to their children that were not afforded to them,” said Cruz-Perez, who represents Camden and Gloucester counties. 

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