New Jersey

Driver’s Licenses in NJ Will Be Available to Immigrants. What That Means

Residents without citizenship are now eligible to get licenses, making New Jersey the 14th state to allow so

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Immigrants who cannot prove they're in the country legally will eventually able to get driver's licenses in New Jersey after Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday signed into law changes to state regulations.

The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2021.

"Driving is a basic need – so we must ensure our roads are safe and our drivers are trained, tested, licensed, and insured," Murphy tweeted Thursday.

What does it mean to current and future drivers in the Garden State?

  • More drivers: There are 500,000 New Jersey residents without legal status who are old enough to drive, according to one estimate.
  • The "points system" for determining residency will change: The chief administrator of the Division of Motor Vehicles needs to overhaul the way people prove their residency and age, according to the new law. The points system, which assigns weight to certain proofs of identification like social security cards, birth certificates, utility bills, and paychecks, will need to be updated to allow residents without social security numbers the ability to get licenses.
  • New drivers: Not much changes for residents seeking first-time "basic" licenses, except that they too will be subject to the new points systems.
  • DMV cooperation with federal agencies like ICE: There won't be any, unless a court were to issue a subpoena, warrant or other court order requiring the DMV to hand over information to law enforcement agencies conducting information. The new additions to the law put in place safeguards consistent with New Jersey's Sanctuary City policy enacted in March. The exact language added to the law is: "Any documents and personal information, including an applicant’s photograph, obtained by the commission from an applicant for a standard basic driver’s license or standard motorcycle license shall be confidential, shall not be considered a government record, or the common law concerning access to government records, and shall not be disclosed by the commission for the purpose of investigation, arrest, citation, prosecution, or detention related to an applicant’s citizenship or immigration status … without the informed consent of the applicant or without a valid, a warrant signed by a State or federal judge, or a lawful court order or subpoena."
  • Safer roads? DMV Commissioner Sue Fulton cited a study by AAA that indicated unlicensed drivers were more likely to flee the scene of an accident than those with licenses while the governor said people who acquire licenses legally will go through proper driver training.
  • Voter fraud concerns? Getting a license triggers voter registration in New Jersey, which has some like Republican Assemblyman Erik Peterson concerned about the integrity of voting rolls in the state. "So you're accommodating people who broke the law,'' Peterson said in response to Fulton's reasoning for support of the expanded license law.
  • Will this be a REAL ID? No, the legislation establishes two types of licenses. One type of license available to New Jerseyans will conform with federal REAL ID requirements that require proof of legal residency. The other type, available to people without a legal status, will not comply with REAL ID. REAL ID licenses will be required by federal authorities to access federal buildings and fly commercial airlines by Oct. 1, 2020. Other alternative IDs, such as a passport, would allow access to federal buildings and flights.
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