N.J. commission approves rules for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants

Immigration activists outside the N.J. Statehouse (Joe Hernandez / WHYY)

Immigration activists outside the N.J. Statehouse (Joe Hernandez / WHYY)

New Jersey’s Motor Vehicle Commission approved on Friday regulations for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, bringing a policy change that has been years in the making one step closer to reality.

The move means that immigrants who aren’t legally present in the United States may be able to apply for driver’s licenses as early as May, but the commission still has to grant final approval for part of the regulations and train staff on the new system.

“We acknowledge and respect the hundreds of thousands of immigrants in New Jersey who are working, paying taxes, contributing to our economy and our rich culture, but do not qualify as legally present in the U.S.,” said MVC chief administrator Sue Fulton.

Fulton added that ensuring all drivers are licensed and insured makes the roads safer for everyone.

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The regulations approved Friday allow residents to present a Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (also known as an ITIN) to apply for the standard driver’s license.

Applicants can also present an affidavit indicating they do not qualify for a Social Security number, a move advocates pushed for after the initial regulations were drafted because it avoids forcing immigrants to obtain a letter of ineligibility from the federal government.

“We were continuously hearing from community members that they would not obtain a license if it meant they had to interact with a federal agency,” said Katy Sastre, outreach coordinator for the nonprofit New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice.

“The fact that now the affidavit will be available to those people is really significant,” she added.

Because the regulation introducing the affidavit was an amendment approved by the MVC on Friday, it now has to go through a public comment period before it can get final approval.

Fulton floated a May 1 deadline for the state of the new program, but it is unclear exactly how that would work. The MVC has struggled to keep up with demand during the pandemic, which shuttered the agency for several months and created a backlog, infected commission workers, and forced it to move many of its customer transactions online.

The regulations come more than a year after Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law expanding driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants in December 2019.

New Jerseyans who are legally present in the U.S. can apply for the standard license, but they can also obtain a federally compliant Real ID, which allows them to board commercial flights, among other things.

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