Driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants

Representatives hope for a vote by the end of the year

Sacco, Mejia, and Jimenez announced their support of driver's licenses for undocumented residents on April 25.
Sacco, Mejia, and Jimenez announced their support of driver's licenses for undocumented residents on April 25.

North Bergen Mayor and State Senator Nicholas Sacco, along with Assembly members Angelica Jimenez and Pedro Mejia, announced that they were co-sponsoring Senate bill S-3229 to allow the state Motor Vehicle Commission to issue driver’s licenses and ID cards to New Jersey residents who are unable to prove lawful residence in the United States.

This policy has been pushed by immigration advocates for several years, and 12 states currently allow undocumented people access to driver’s licenses. Members of Let’s Drive NJ, Make The Road New Jersey, and the New Jersey Coalition of Latino Ministers and Priests were present at the announcement to show support for the bill.

All three representatives who announced the bill at Trova Cuban Cafe in North Bergen represent the 32nd Legislative District, which includes North Bergen, Secaucus, and West New York, in addition to several other towns in west Hudson and and Bergen Counties.

As a Cuban immigrant in search of greater opportunities, the owner of Trova shared his experience of the difficulties in making a life for himself in the United States without a driver’s license.

Sacco said that providing undocumented immigrants across the state with access to driver’s licenses would provide a degree of economic mobility, given the difficulty in getting employment without a car.

The bill, Sacco said, would make the streets safer by reducing the number of uninsured, unlicensed drivers on the road.

Protections are in place

The legislation also offers protection for those who could be detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement based on their immigration status, which frequently happens in Hudson County during traffic incidents.

A component of this bill would ban law enforcement officers from using this class of license against an undocumented resident. It would become illegal for an officer to make an arrest based solely on the residency status that these potential licenses would display.

“This license cannot be used against a person by authorities,” Sacco said. “There are many, many arrests based on car accidents with people who are undocumented. That has to stop, and that will stop because these licenses will not be permitted to be used against a person who drives.”

Aiming for the end of the year

Sacco said that if Gov. Phil Murphy announced support of the policy, it would could create a top-down movement that might lead to the bill’s passage by the end of the year. Still, it’s unclear what the bill would look like if or when it reaches a vote.

“It’s going to be difficult with the legislation as it exists now,” Sacco said. “I don’t know what it’ll look like by the time we go out to vote, how many compromises will need to be made, but it protects people who need to find employment, and they will have a driver’s license.”

The push to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants is greater in the 32nd District, which has a substantial population of immigrant residents compared to other regions of the state.

“Many of our colleagues don’t live in a community like North Bergen that has a very heavy Latino population, and it’s a very healthy community because of that,” Sacco said. “They don’t understand the needs that the people in this town have, and in the 32nd District. It’s a super Latino district. We’ll take a stand and fight our way through. I believe we can pass this before the year ends. I’m a cosponsor of this bill, and hopefully, we have a fairer, better world when this is done.”

Municipal ID program still on the fence

Sacco was asked whether he’d consider implementing a municipal ID program in North Bergen, a program which has been approved in municipalities throughout Hudson County including Jersey City, Union City, and, most recently, West New York.

The policy, also backed by several immigrant advocacy groups, is geared toward providing proof of residency to undocumented immigrants so that they could open bank accounts, gain employment, and be identified by the towns they live in.

Sacco said that he feared the possibility that a list of municipal IDs could be accessed by ICE through a court order without the proper protection in place.

“I’m scared that there will be a list with everybody who’s undocumented and lives in North Bergen,” Sacco said. “I’m worried about it, and maybe I’m too worried about it, but that’s why I’ve held back a little bit. I’m open to doing something like that because it’s easy to do, I’m just worried about it being misused. It’s never happened in Union City where anyone has gone and taken the list, but God knows with this current climate what could happen.”

“Once it’s done, what can you do about it? Once you have a list, you can’t destroy it without interfering in an investigation,” Sacco said.

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