In December 2019, New Jersey enacted legislation (A4743/S3229) to expand access to driver’s licenses to all residents, regardless of their immigration status. This new law enables more residents to earn a standard driver’s license, which has the potential to substantially improve public safety, strengthen New Jersey’s economy, and generate new revenue. However, the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) — the agency tasked with implementing the expansion — recently proposed regulations that would limit the law’s impact by imposing unreasonable burdens on many driver’s license applicants, including immigrants, low-income individuals, unhoused individuals, individuals reentering society after incarceration, and survivors of violence.
The MVC’s proposed regulations ignore existing barriers faced by driver’s license applicants, such as difficulties in obtaining documents, fear of interacting with federal agencies, and the economic and health impacts of the current public health emergency. One such regulation is the requirement that applicants who do not have a Social Security Number (SSN) provide either proof of an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) or a letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA) that indicates SSN ineligibility. The process of applying for an ITIN, however, is itself burdensome and inaccessible for many immigrants, and recent changes to ITIN rules have made it even more challenging to hold an ITIN. For those immigrants who do not already hold an ITIN, it is unlikely that they will feel safe sharing their personal information with a federal administration that has a track record of hostility toward immigrants.
As anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies have already created heightened fear and confusion around interacting with public agencies, the MVC’s proposed regulations neglect to account for the national climate toward immigrants. The MVC should consider procedures used in other states that have expanded access to driver’s licenses. New York’s Department of Motor Vehicles, for example, does not require a social security card or ineligibility letter to apply for a standard driver’s license. Instead, they accept an affidavit declaring that an SSN has not been issued to the applicant.
The barriers created by these regulations will be compounded by the current public health crisis, as applicants are more likely to encounter challenges and delays when they request documents. Moreover, the current pandemic makes expanding access to driver’s licenses more important than ever. Many of the families who would be left out of the driver’s license expansion under the MVC’s proposed regulations are the same ones who have been excluded from pandemic relief. Removing barriers to obtaining a driver’s license will make it safer and easier for families to maintain social distancing as they get to work and school, and by extension, support the state’s recovery from the current crisis.
To learn more about how the implementation of driver’s licenses expansion could better consider the realities of all New Jersey residents, or to find out how you can provide feedback on the MVC’s proposed regulations, please visit https://www.letsdrivenj.org.