As a new political season begins in the Garden State, activists there hope a friendlier climate will help them grow support for undocumented immigrants.
The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, a coalition of immigrant rights groups, resumed a push last week to amend the law on who receives driver’s licenses in the state. The revitalized campaign kicked off with a rally, which had estimated attendance in the hundreds.
Called the New Jersey Safe & Responsible Driver Act, the legislation in question would grant driving rights to more than 500,000 undocumented immigrants who call the Garden State home. Outgoing governor Chris Christie promised to veto any such measure that came across his desk, but newly elected state leader Phil Murphy showed interest in pursuing the issue, renewing supporters’ hopes of seeing it come to fruition.
The law would work by streamlining New Jersey’s process for license eligibility, which typically requires applicants to produce six points of identification. Undocumented immigrants—as well as the homeless and others who lack the means to meet such criteria—could receive a license or state ID card under the system by simply offering proof of their identity, date of birth, and residence in New Jersey.
The measure would pose a national security risk, Christie and others opposed to the idea argued. Proponents countered that licenses issued as part of the program would not qualify as federal identification and would not fall under stringent REAL ID standards, leaving holders of the cards unable to board flights or gain access to military bases, among other restrictions.
The program would also require all new license holders to obtain auto insurance, which would lead to an additional $245 million in annual insurance payments and could help lower premiums in the state—perennially one of the nation’s most expensive—according to a report from the nonprofit New Jersey Policy Perspective.
Indeed, a similar program introduced in California in 2015 saved state residents millions in out-of-pocket expenses related to car accidents, as well as reduced the actual number of hit-and-run accidents there.
And the potential economic boon could also reach the state’s coffers, with the same report estimating a cash windfall of at least $5.2 million in new license and permit fees during the program’s first three years—plus more than $7 million in new registration fees.
If the law passes, New Jersey would be the 13th state—plus the District of Columbia—to adopt such legislation.