In NJ, Renewing the Fight for Immigrant Driver’s Licenses

(Photo via Reporte Hispano)

(Photo via Reporte Hispano)

The immigrant community is once again trying to get state legislators to pass the bill that would issue driver’s licenses to the state’s undocumented people.

The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice coalition held a press conference in front of the steps of the State House to ask legislators to approve the bill, which the immigrant community has tried to have passed since 2014.

At the press conference, Johanna Calle, program coordinator at the coalition of 20 organizations, pointed out that, given the current presidential campaign’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, legislators have the opportunity to approve the New Jersey Safe and Responsible Driver Act A868/S292 to demonstrate their support for the immigrant community.

In 2015, the bill was approved by the Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee, whose chair is Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, the main sponsor of the law.

Still, the bill was filed at the state Senate when the Transportation Committee refused to discuss it. At that time, Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Pérez, member of the committee, explained that the project required some changes in order to be considered by senators and approved by Gov. Christie.

In January of this year, the bill was reintroduced by Assemblywoman Quijano. There was hope that it would be discussed this time, but legislators told community leaders who supported the bill that, due to the Assembly’s multiple priorities, it would not be discussed until the fall.

Now, autumn has arrived, and community leaders are picking up the fight in favor of issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented people. Calle said that they “understand that there is always something that is considered a priority, but it is time to make the immigrant community and the issue of driver’s licenses a priority. We cannot wait any longer.”

Calle said that the bill is the same one they attempted to get approved last December.

Cruz-Pérez said that the changes the lawmakers have proposed are unacceptable. “Several legislators want to add fingerprinting and performing background checks on undocumented people applying for licenses. That is not acceptable,” she told Reporte Hispano.

The senator believes that requiring a group to give their fingerprints and to accept to have their criminal history checked while the rest of the state’s residents are able to obtain their licenses without meeting these two requirements is simply “discriminatory.”

“This is a matter of equality. Immigrants are not criminals. We will not allow this discrimination,” said Cruz-Pérez.

For her part, Calle called the fingerprinting and background check measures “very dangerous,” adding that they would destroy the law’s purpose, as many undocumented people will refrain from obtaining their licenses for fear that their personal information may be shared with immigration authorities.

Cruz-Pérez said that Sen. Nicholas Sacco, chairman of the Transportation Committee, is willing to bring the bill up for discussion. However, she did not mention the date when that will happen.

There is no set date to discuss the bill at the Assembly’s committees either.

The bill is a copy of the law approved in California, which was evaluated and endorsed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, on the grounds that the law can accurately establish that applicants for these licenses are who they say they are, and limits the document’s utility to driving purposes.

If approved, the law would benefit nearly 464,000 undocumented immigrants in New Jersey, according to projections made by New Jersey Policy Perspective.

Six counties and 15 municipalities have approved resolutions in support of the bill to issue driver’s licenses in New Jersey.

In the meantime, while politicians continue to delay passing the bill, families such as Eusebio Ventura’s, who live in Dover, and Rosana Madeira’s, who live in Elizabeth, will continue to drive in fear of being stopped by the police, arrested and deported, or suffer the hardships of not being able to travel by car to do the most basic errands, such as taking their kids to school or to the doctor or going grocery shopping.

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