Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed a law to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses earlier this week, legislation that saw unanimous approval from Hudson County lawmakers – as well as many local activist groups.
By Mike Montemarano/Hudson County View
The bill passed in the assembly 42-30-5, before being approved in the senate by a vote of 21-17-2.
Democratic state Senators Shirley Turner (D-15) and Joseph Lagana (D-38) abstained from the measure, while state Senators Dawn Addiego (D-8) and Fred H. Madden (D-4) opposed the measure.
Additionally, all Republican state senators voted no on the measure citing varied concerns about public safety, integrity in the voting process, and that undocumented immigrants simply ought not to be able to get driver’s licenses.
“Today is a simple recognition that our immigrant communities and each of you are a vital part of our state and economy,” Murphy said before signing the bill at a press conference in Elizabeth.
“It is an acknowledgement that many immigrant residents are already behind the wheel and on our roads, going to work and school, or maybe the grocery store. I’m sure some of you drove here today. You haven’t been asking for special treatment, you’ve asked us to acknowledge reality.”
The governor addd that the 14 states which already passed similar legislation have seen “a dramatic increase in licensed and insured drivers, and an increase in the number of residents able to contribute to the economy.”
“This will happen in New Jersey as well. We will protect your personal information and that of any other resident who applies for a standard driver’s license. Insurance companies won’t be able to hike your premiums because you don’t have a real ID. Employers, landlords, and even your government won’t be able to discriminate against you.”
The new classification will not require applicants to provide six points of identification as required by federal RealID standards.
An advisory board, established by the bill, will determine alternative forms of identification which applicants would be able to provide in order to receive the new type of license.
According to New Jersey Policy Perspective, a left-leaning think tank which endorsed the law, over 700,000 estimated people will be able to obtain a driver’s license who were previously unable to.
“The research is clear that driver’s license expansion has widespread benefits as more residents are properly trained, tested, and insured before they hit the road,” NJPP policy analyst Erika Nava said.
Their estimates include almost 426,000 undocumented people (168,000 of whom have children), 288,000 formerly incarcerated people, and the 12 percent of residents earning less than $25,000 annually who do not currently have passports.
Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-33), a primary sponsor of the bill, said on the floor that while he was “embarrassed” that 14 states passed similar legislation prior to New Jersey, he applauded the years-long efforts made by a statewide coalition of grassroots organizations to see the bill through.
“This is for human rights, and affording a basic dignity to all of our friends and neighbors. When we gave all of you as advocates reason to doubt this day would come, and when there were delays, you did not relent in fighting for this basic dignity,” he added.
Mukherji was speaking to advocates in attendance who’ve lobbied legislators across the state for support, and across party lines to speak with known opponents of the bill.
Lobbying efforts for the legislation lasted years before it was first introduced in Dec. 2018, but the bill never reached the floors of the senate or assembly for a vote. It was subsequently pushed back to January.
“I was very proud to support this bill and see it signed into law this week. Driving, for many in New Jersey, is a necessity in order to earn a living. Let be real about it: many undocumented people are struggling to get rides to work or likely just driving,” Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro (D-33) told HCV.
“Let’s give them the option to be a safer driver, with a license and insurance. All of New Jersey should be safer and benefit from the increased economic prosperity from this new opportunity for undocumented members of our community to not live in the shadows anymore.”
As state Senator Nick Sacco said during an April presser in which he and his legislative running mates – Assembly persons Pedro Mejia and Angelica Jimenez (all D-32) – endorsed the legislation.
At the time, they made it clear that there wouldn’t be enough promised “yes” votes across the board for the legislation to be comfortably introduced until the lame duck session after the November 2019 election cycle.
Overall, the three senators and six assembly members from Hudson County Legislative Districts 31, 32, and 33, made clear that they would support the bill before the final months leading to the vote.
“Immigrant parents and youth throughout the state have been fighting for access to driver’s licenses for over 16 years in New Jersey,” noted Wind of the Spirit Co-president Karol Ruiz.
Immigration issues in both Hudson County and across the state have been at the crux of conflict within the statewide Democratic party including tensions between North and South Jersey legislators, and a hot-button issue among local politicians in Hudson County.
The President Donal Trump (R) administration’s policy on immigration has spurred many grassroots groups to make more urgent calls for action to counter federal policies aimed at ramping up deportations and other punitive measures.
Many of the same groups who lobbied for the undocumented driver’s license bill campaigned for many measures including a statewide end to 287 (g) contracts with ICE, one of which allowed for ICE to pay Hudson County tens of millions of dollars to house its detainees in the Hudson County Correctional Facility.
These groups also turned out in large numbers and made countless phone calls in hopes of allocating more state budget funding for legal representation for ICE detainees, and promoted many of the key policing procedures ordered in Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s “Immigrant Trust Directive.”
Key players on the grassroots front included Make the Road NJ, New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, Faith in New Jersey, the New Jersey Coalition of Latino Ministers and Priests, Wind of the Spirit, the American Friends Committee Immigrant Rights Program, the 32BJ SEIU labor union and Veterans for American Ideals.
With the driver’s license legislation passed into law, it very much remains to be seen what kind of immigration-related proposals might come into play for New Jersey during 2020, a presidential year with many critical local, congressional, and senate elections.