An Overview of New Jersey’s Legislation Allowing Undocumented Immigrants to Obtain Driver's Licenses
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill Thursday that will permit undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses, according to According to NBC News. In a vote largely along party lines, both in committee and before the state Senate and Assembly, Democrats supporting the legislation while Republicans opposed. They reported that fourteen states, including New Jersey, and the District of Columbia now permit undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses. Gov. Murphy, a Democrat, signed the measure in Elizabeth, NJ, just days after the Democratic-led Legislature approved the legislation, saying, “Expanding access to driver’s licenses is critical for the safety of New Jerseyans and a step toward building a stronger and fairer New Jersey for all.”
The bill received support from immigrant rights groups, who cheered throughout the Statehouse when the measure passed. They argue the legislation increases safety as many immigrants without legal documentation already drive without a license or insurance and point out that more accessible licenses would help people to work, thereby providing for their loved ones.
Among the supporters is Motor Vehicles Commissioner Sue Fulton, who cited a study by AAA that indicated unlicensed drivers were more likely to flee the scene of an accident than those with licenses. She said "hundreds of thousands" of NJ residents can't prove their residency legally, but possess documentation, such as passports, visas, and birth certificates from their native countries. “We cannot and will not issue anyone an identity credential such as a driver's license without substantial proof of identity," Fulton stated. “We reject the notion that licensing without regard to immigration status means we would hand out ID cards without proof of identity, age and residence.” The new law also requires Fulton to set up a two-year public awareness campaign about the availability of both types of licenses, as well as the requirements to obtain them.
A 2018 study from New Jersey Policy Perspective, a progressive think tank, estimated about 500,000 residents without documentation are of driving age in the state.
What exactly does this legislation enact?
The bill creates two classes of license. One is compliant with federal REAL ID standards. This is the only license used to fly on a plane or enter federal facilities beginning in October 2020. Applicants for federal REAL ID licenses must prove they have a legal right to live in the U.S.
The second is a standard driver’s license. All New Jersey residents, regardless of immigration status, will have access to this category.
The measure raises the cost of a REAL ID license, but also specifies a temporary break from this increase for those renewing current licenses.
Are these new licenses specifically for undocumented immigrants?
Although immigrants living here illegally are expected to be the biggest beneficiaries of the expansion, anyone may apply for a standard license.
When does this legislation take effect?
This measure takes effect on Jan. 1, 2021; however, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission could begin issuing standard basic licenses prior to this date.
Do applicants still have to show “six points of identification” for a standard license?
The 6-point system used for providing identity to get a traditional license, in which different documents carry different point values, would specifically apply to the new licenses as well. Applicants for the new standard license would have to provide just one document proving their New Jersey residency, rather than the two currently required. Any use of altered or fake documents could lead to a fine of $500 and 60 days in county jail.
Sue Fulton, the Motor Vehicle Commission's chief administrator, told state legislators this month all applicants will be required to present multiple forms of identification as well as utility bills and bank statements to establish proof of residency.