It’s Time to Allow New Jersey’s Undocumented Residents to Drive Legally

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 30, 2014
Contact: Jon Whiten, NJPP: 609-393-1145 ext. 15 | whiten@njpp.org

It’s Time to Allow New Jersey’s Undocumented Residents to Drive Legally

New Jersey Should Continue its Progress on Proactive Immigration Policy with License Bill

drivers license map-01Allowing all residents the opportunity to drive legally would make New Jersey safer, help its economy and increase the well being of many families, policy analysts and immigrant-rights advocates said today on a conference call with reporters.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the American Friends Service Committee, Faith in New Jersey, New Jersey Communities United and Wind of the Spirit all joined representatives of New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) to call on New Jersey to follow the lead of 11 states and Washington D.C., and ensure that all drivers, regardless of their immigration status, are tested, trained, licensed, insured and accountable for their driving records. The advocates suggested that a driver’s license bill is the next logical step to continue New Jersey’s recent progress on proactive immigration policy.

“New Jersey should catch up with the 11 states, plus D.C., that have recognized the good sense of extending driver’s licenses to undocumented residents,” said NJPP President Gordon MacInnes. “Our state would be safer, immigrant families could better raise their families with increased mobility and our economy – struggling as it is – would benefit from more economic activity and higher public revenues.”

The advocates, all part of the newly formed New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, echoed the policy recommendations laid out in a NJPP report released today, Share the Road: Allowing Eligible Undocumented Residents Access to Driver’s Licenses Makes Sense for New Jersey.

The report estimates that about 464,000 of New Jersey’s estimated 525,000 undocumented residents stand to benefit from a change in the state’s policy on driving licenses. Of those eligible, NJPP estimates that between 153,000 and 278,000 would apply during the first three years of any new policy.

The report outlines key reasons to allow undocumented residents to drive legally:

It would make New Jersey’s roads and highways safer.

“Allowing immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses will increase safety for everyone on the road,” said Chia-Chia Wang, Organizing and Advocacy Director of the American Friends Service Committee Immigrant Rights Program. “Reducing the number of uninsured and unlicensed drivers on New Jersey’s roads is a common-sense goal.”

It would increase the mobility of New Jersey’s undocumented residents and their families.

“The right to drive a car should not be conditioned on a person’s immigration status,” said Udi Ofer, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “Undocumented New Jerseyans must make daily choices about whether to meet their basic needs – like buying food, going to the doctor’s office or dropping their kids at school – or to drive without a license and risk arrest. Granting licenses to these residents will help bring many of the estimated half-million undocumented New Jerseyans out of the shadows and build trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities.”

It would help New Jersey’s economy by reducing the number of uninsured drivers, modestly increasing state revenues and making more employment opportunities available to undocumented workers and others who have difficulty meeting the current requirements.

“The half-million undocumented residents in New Jersey are a great boon to the state’s economy already, as most of them work, pay taxes and spend money in their local communities,” said NJPP policy analyst and report author Erika J. Nava. “Allowing them to access driver’s license will only serve to increase their important contributions to New Jersey’s economic future.”

Assemblywoman Annette Quijano has introduced legislation extending driving privilege cards to New Jerseyans who cannot prove lawful presence in the United States, and advocates on the call have been working closely with the Assemblywoman to ensure the bill will have the greatest positive impact possible.

“We know there are a lot of people driving who are undocumented and, consequently, do not have the proper insurance or properly registered vehicles,” said Assemblywoman Quijano. “Ultimately, this is a public safety measure that’s designed to protect motorists everywhere by ensuring that everyone is subject to the same certification and licensing standards.”

While the legislation that’s been introduced would, as is, be a big step forward for New Jersey, the NJPP report suggests eight simple ways that Assemblywoman Quijano’s legislation could be made even stronger, including minimizing additional costs, increasing civil rights reporting and allowing the cards to be used for state identification purposes.