TRENTON – Legislation that would grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants passed the Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee in a 3-2 vote on Monday.
Committee Chairwoman Annette Quijano cosponsored the bill with Democrats Reed Gusciora and Raj Mukherji in an effort to improve public safety on the roads. According to the bill’s cosponsors, if the bill were to eventually become law, it would improve safety by ensuring that all vehicles were registered and insured. Additionally, they claim that the new law would allow drivers to follow laws, drive without fear and reduce number of accidents/hit-and-run instances due to proper training and the reduced fear of deportation.
“This is not an immigration issue,” said Quijano. “This is a safety issue. This will make certain that all people on the road are appropriately tested and licensed and are driving vehicles that are registered and insured. This is the right thing to do if we’re concerned about having common sense policies that ensure our roads are as safe as we can make them.”
Not all committee members agreed with Quijano, however. Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi was vocal with concerns that granting the licenses would open the door to illegal air travel or gun purchases because the restrictions—though they would be written on the license—would appear in “the smallest font possible.”
“There are some real concerns that I do have pertaining to those issues. I would like to see in any future iterations of this bill include things like fingerprinting applicants and providing proof of residence, that you have actually lived in New Jersey for a significant amount of time. I think it is important for this bill that there be a waiting period to allow the proper checks and balances to take place. It needs to not be hidden in tiny little letters for people to understand what that means.”
Today’s hearing featured testimony from those on both sides of the argument. Among those who testified in favor were Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, SEIU 32BJ state director Kevin Brown, New Jersey State Democratic Committee Vice Chair Lizette Delgado-Polanco and NJ ACLU Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin. The almost three hour meeting also featured freeholders from Cumberland and Essex Counties and representatives from religious groups like the New Jersey Catholic Conference, among others.
A number of undocumented immigrants also spoke to the panel to discuss negative experiences they faced in the state due to the lack of drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants.
Several of those who gave testimonials opposing the bill voiced concerns that the it “undermines the rule of law” because it grants legal documents to those who are living outside of state/federal laws. One opponent suggested that a license could be used nefariously as a means for criminals to “go off the grid.”
Thought the law has passed the Homeland Security Panel, it still must clear the state assembly and the Senate. Finally, it will need to be signed off on by the governor. Though the bill moved forward today, it is highly unlikely that Governor Chris Christie will sign it in to law if it eventually reaches his desk.
Schepisi and Assemblyman David Russo voted no while Quijano, Assemblywoman Patricia Eagan Jones and Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin all voted in favor of releasing it. Twelve states and DC currently have similar laws.