SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Gov. Phil Murphy, on Dec. 19, signed into law a bill that now makes New Jersey one of more than a dozen states to allow undocumented immigrants the right to legally obtain a driver’s license. 

“For everyone to have the ability to get licenses and therefore, if they have a car, get insurance, makes the road safer for everybody. For me, that was the determining factor,” said Senator Patrick J. Diegnan (D-18th L.D), a resident of South Plainfield and a co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Earlier this month, a bill – A4743/S3229 – to create a two-tier system for standard driver's licenses and non-driver identification cards was approved 4-2 by the Assembly Judiciary Committee and 5-2 by the Senate Transportation Committee. On Dec. 16, both houses, in two separate votes, approved the bill, with the Assembly voting 42-30-5 and the Senate voting 21-17-2; the Republican representatives in both branches opposed the legislation. 

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State leaders anticipate the bill to generate over $20 million in revenue over the first three years from permit, title, and driver’s licenses fees. Proponents of the new law also feel it will not only provide protection to immigrants, but also be beneficial for public safety since those who are currently driving illegally will now be able to get licensed and obtain car insurance.

Critics, however, have voiced opposition to undocumented immigrants obtaining a driver’s license. “Like so many of our families, my grandparents on my mother’s side and my great grandparents on my father’s side immigrated to the United States the right and legal way,” said Senator Michael Testa (1st L.D.), one of the two GOP Senate Transportation Committee members to oppose the measure, in a formal statement. 

“We should not reward those who have no respect for our country’s laws with the privilege of a driver’s license,” said Testa. “Democrats pushing this legislation are laying out the welcome mat for illegal immigrants rather than prioritizing the needs of their actual constituents.”

Under the law, there will be two types of licenses in the State of New Jersey - one compliant with federal REAL ID rules and another for identification and driving purposes only. 

To obtain a standard license/ID one must meet the Motor Vehicle Commission’s (MVC) six-point identification requirement that includes proof of identity and age, two documents proving New Jersey residency and proof of social security number. Under the new legislation, an individual who does not have a social security number can now qualify for a license by submitting their Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) or indicating, in accordance with rules set forth by the MVC, that they’re ineligible for a social security number. 

According to the bill, one’s citizenship status would not be included on the driver’s license/ID. This provision applies to basic driver’s licenses, motorcycle licenses, and probationary licenses as well as non-driver identification; commercial licenses are excluded. 

Residents seeking a REAL ID license/ID must comply with the provisions of the federal ‘REAL ID Act of 2005’ and provide proof of residency, age and social security number as well as proof that their presence in the United States is authorized under federal law. The REAL ID, which comes with a higher fee than a standard license/ID, could be used to access federal government facilities or board domestic flights. The MVC would be required to comply with federal guidelines of the Act by retaining an applicant’s personal documents for a period of 7 to 10 years.

New Jersey now joins California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Vermont and Washington along with the District of Columbia who also have similar laws allowing residents to obtain driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status in place. 

“Fourteen other states that already recognize this and in those particular states there have been no problems. And, again, to me, it just makes our roads safer for everyone,” said Diegnan, adding, “This is America. We are all in this together and I think to encourage people to do the right thing was the right course of action.”

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