PERTH AMBOY, NJ - Five mayors from northern and central New Jersey today called for passage of a state law permitting immigrants to get driver's licenses even if they are undocumented, saying it boosts public safety as well as the economy.
"This is important for every resident for a better life and a better life for the state of New Jersey," said Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz, who hosted the meeting and noted that 80 percent of her city's population is Latino.
Diaz and mayors from Dover, Hopewell, Maplewood, Morristown and Roselle spoke in support of Assemblwoman Annette Quijano's (D-Union) bill to allowed undocumented immigrants access to the licenses.
Diaz hosted the meeting with the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, which is leading a "Let's Drive NJ drive that has been joined by 50 community, faith-based, labor, social service and advoacy organizations.
All the mayors at the meeting said immigrants have been allowed to receive municipal identification cards, enabling them to participate in municipal programs, and enjoy other benefits, such as opening bank accounts. Denying this population licenses limits their ability to get jobs,the municipal leaders said.
"If you do not have a driver's license, you can not maximize your earning potential," said Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca.
Roselle Mayor Christine Dansereau said immigrants in her borough can been seen getting to work on bicycles regardless of the weather. Dover Mayor James Dodd said school buses are not provided in his 2 1/2 square-miles of his town, and often immigrants put children under age 10 on taxi to reach schools.
Quijano said permitting immigrants to have licenses - requiring them to follow state regulations - would make the roads safer for all drivers, and would allowed undocumented workers more employment opportunities and make them better consumers. It would increase state revenues through taxes on the purchase of gasoline and through paying highway tolls.
"I think of it as an economic multiplier," she said. She also said there would be safeguards in the law to protect immigrants from being report to federal authorities after they get a license.
Quijano, whose two prior bills proposing similar access driver's licenses were opposed by Gov. Chris Christie, said Gov. Phil Murphy has stated his support for the measure. Quijano said she will travel to California to review the law there permitting licenses for immigrants.
Currently,12 states expanded access to licenses in the same way.
The mayors pointed out that the proposed law would benefit the LBGTQ community, because drivers would be permitted to identify their preferred gender.
A licenses that would be issued under the proposed law would look much like all others issued in the state, but would carry an indication that it was issued to an immigrant, as required under federal regulation, Quijano said.
Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez (D-Middlesex) also attended the meeting to speak in support of the bill, and state Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) issued a statement calling the "legislation critical to ensuring safety of our roads."