New Jersey Pushing for Undocumented Residents to Get Driver’s Licenses

A bill introduced recently into the New Jersey legislature by Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union) would allow undocumented residents in the state to obtain a valid driving privilege card similar in form and function to a regular state driver’s license.

Driving Privileges for the Undocumented

The controversial bill, sponsored by three other lawmakers from the New Jersey Assembly and Senate, is targeted specifically at those who cannot show proof of lawful residence in the U.S.

It would allow undocumented residents to obtain driving privileges from the state Motor Vehicle Commission so long as they have some form of identification and proof of residence in New Jersey. In order to obtain the card, undocumented residents will also be required to pass a written test similar in nature to that required for a state driver’s license. Those looking to obtain driving privileges in this manner can get as much driving test practice as they need by going over free information online.

Requirements and Restrictions

The proposed legislation lists more than 10 items that are acceptable as proof of identity and proof of residency for the purpose of obtaining the card. Acceptable documents include a valid passport or consular ID, birth certificate, residential lease and utility bills, property tax bills, marriage records, school documents and marriage or divorce certificates.

The driver’s privilege card would feature a digitized image of the cardholder on the front and be valid for four years from the date of issue. The card would be valid for use solely inside New Jersey and would carry text in the front stating it cannot be used for federal identification purposes. As a result, the card will not be acceptable as proof of identification for entering a federal building or boarding a plane.

Mixed Reactions

Quijano’s proposed measure has evoked a distinctly mixed reaction from both supporters and opposers of immigration reform. Those who support the bill view it as a measure that will finally require undocumented residents to register their vehicles and to obtain insurance coverage just like other New Jersey drivers. Proponents argue the measure will reduce the ranks of uninsured and unlicensed drivers in New Jersey and hold undocumented residents to the same legal standards and liabilities as legal residents.

Immigration groups estimate New Jersey has between 250,000 and 500,000 undocumented residents, a vast majority of whom are of driving age. Currently most of them do not have insurance coverage. Groups like the National Immigration Law Center have noted that at least 10 other states currently permit undocumented adults to drive legally. Oregon too has passed similar legislation but will hold a state referendum to see if the measure should be implemented. Meanwhile, eight other states, including Pennsylvania and New York, have introduced similar driving privilege bills.

Opponents of the proposed bill see matters differently. Many view the New Jersey measure and similar statutes as rewarding those who are breaking the law. They have argued that such measures needlessly make it easier for people to live and work in the U.S. illegally. Some immigration control groups have noted that undocumented residents are unlikely to apply for or obtain the driver’s permits out of concern they could be apprehended because of their illegal status in the country. Others have also pointed out that most undocumented residents are unlikely to be able to provide acceptable proof of identification or proof of residence needed to obtain the card.