JERSEY CITY – The Jersey City Council voted unanimously on May 28 in favor of Resolution 15-329, urging the state legislators to enact a bill allowing the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) to issue driver’s licenses to individuals who cannot provide proof of lawful presence in the United States. A copy of the resolution shall be forwarded by the Municipal Clerk to the offices of all members of the New Jersey Assembly, and Governor Christopher Christie.
The resolution, which was introduced by City Council President Rolando Lavarro, said that other states “including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, new Mexico, Vermont, Washington, and Utah, as well as Washington, D.C. do not prohibit access to driver’s licenses based on immigration status.”
New Jersey currently prohibits undocumented residents from obtaining a driver’s license.
The council’s 8-0 vote makes Jersey City the eighth city in New Jersey to pass similar resolution following Camden, Elizabeth, New Brunswick, Perth Amboy, Plainfield, Dover, and Bridgeton.
In a statement, the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice (NJAIJ) viewed the passing of this resolution “to be another great step in the growing momentum from immigrant communities organizers to make New Jersey a more immigrant-friendly state.”
“These immigrants are our parents, siblings, neighbors and friends who need to get to work and support their families like everyone else in New Jersey,” said Chia-Chia Wang, Organizing and Advocacy Director, American Friends Service Committee. “Driver’s license is a basic and necessary state level policy that only increases public safety and benefit economy and working families.”
Many undocumented immigrants are driving without a license, which many do to go to work or to take their children to school. In many parts of New Jersey it is necessary to travel by car rather than public transportation.
Hanalei Ramos, organizer at the Filipino Immigrants & Workers Organizing Project (FIWOP), said that in a survey in April this year, nine out of 10 Filipinos in Jersey City agree with allowing undocumented immigrants the privilege to drive.
“According to our constituents, taking public transportation would take them two to three hours to reach their work places compared to 20 to 30 minutes by driving,” Ramos said.
Jersey City has the largest immigrant population in the state of New Jersey. More than 40 percent of its residents are foreign born. Filipinos are among the communities that have a big ethnic presence in the city.
Jersey City Council Resolution 15-329 expresses support for bills S2925 and A4425, introduced respectively by state Senator Joseph Vitale (D-Woodbridge) and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union), to extend access to driver’s licenses to undocumented New Jersey residents.
Under the provisions of these bills, which were introduced in the both chambers of the state legislature this month, it calls on the MVC to issue a driver’s license to a person who cannot prove lawful presence in the U.S. but satisfies the requirements for the issuance of a basic driver’s license.
Both bills stipulate that an applicant has to submit the following documents or a combination of documents, as determined by the chief administrator of MVC:
- a valid, unexpired consular identification issued by a consulate from the applicant’s country of citizenship, a driver’s license or identification card issued by another state or a municipality, a U.S. military identification document, a foreign driver’s license, a foreign federal electoral photo card, a document issued by the Department of Homeland Security or a court, a student identification document, a marriage license or a divorce certificate, or other proof of identity, as designated by the chief administrator. The documents may be expired if they are presented with other acceptable proof of identity;
- an original birth certificate, adoption records, an official school or college transcript that includes the applicant’s date of birth, a foreign school record that includes a photograph of the applicant at the age the record was issued, or other proof of age, as designated by the chief administrator;
- a home utility bill, lease or rental agreement, a property tax bill or statement issued within the previous 12 months, an income tax return, a deed or title to real property, or other proof of New Jersey residence, as designated by the chief administrator.
Applicants who are unable to provide the above documents, but who are able to provide alternative documents shall be subject to a secondary review to determine whether the applicant has presented sufficient information to verify his identity, age, and residence in New Jersey.
Applicable fees shall be paid for by the applicant and an additional fee not to exceed $50 to offset the administrative costs associated with the production and distribution of driver’s licenses issued. A driver’s license to be issued shall include a digitized picture of the person and shall contain on the front of the driver’s license in the smallest font size the statement: “Federal Limits May Apply”.
A driver’s license shall be valid for four years from the date of issuance and shall be bound by the same legal responsibilities with respect to the operation of a motor vehicle.
Both bills also prescribe that it shall be an unlawful discrimination violation for any person or public official to discriminate against an individual based upon the fact that the individual holds or presents a driver’s license issued in accordance with the legislation shall be guilty of a crime of official deprivation of civil rights.
Moreover, a driver’s license issued under this legislation shall not be considered evidence of an individual’s citizenship or immigration status and shall not be used as a basis for an investigation, arrest, citation, or detention. Information shall not be considered a public record and shall not be disclosed to any federal, State, or local government entity without probable cause or a valid warrant.
If enacted by the state legislature and signed by Governor Christie, the legislation would take effect on the first day of the seventh month following enactment. However, the chief administrator of the MVC may take such administrative action in advance of the effective date as may be necessary.
The legislation would benefit around 464,000 people in the state. The legislation would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses for the purposes of driving in the state, if they pass driving and identity tests.
In March this year, the NJAFIJ launched “New Jersey For All” campaign, which aims to advance policies that address the need for expanded access to driver’s licenses, the lack of government-issued identification in the immigrant community, wage theft, and the separation of immigrant families.
According to New Jersey Policy Perspective, in their report Share the Road, this type of policy would create a revenue of $5 million in licensing fees and it would lower insurance premiums to all residents of the state by creating $209 million in insurance premium revenue.
“This policy will also provide some relief to immigrants who are afraid of being deported due to interactions with law enforcement. It also would lower the amount of unlicensed drivers on the roads, therefore making them safer for everyone,” NJAFIJ said.
“Caretakers, family members of undocumented families risk their lives to come to the United States to have a better future for their children,” said Monica Calderon, Director at Action 21. “Oftentimes, and in order to survive, fathers and mothers continue to risk their well-being by driving without a licenses/insurance to their jobs, or by walking on highways, where they compromise the safety, not only their own, but also the rest of the population.”