N.J. lawmakers propose state ID card for undocumented immigrants, others

In New Jersey, several Democratic lawmakers are pushing for a state identification card for those lacking the personal documents required to get a federally compliant driver’s license. (WHYY file photo)

In New Jersey, several Democratic lawmakers are pushing for a state identification card for those lacking the personal documents required to get a federally compliant driver’s license. (WHYY file photo)

Several Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey want to create a state identification card for people who lack the personal documents required to get a federally compliant driver’s license.

Such an ID card would give undocumented immigrants, many of whom lack a Social Security number, the ability to drive.

“We can’t ignore the reality that undocumented immigrants are on the roads now, going to work, driving their children to school, and doing the routine activities that all families do,” said Sen. Joe Vitale, D-Middlesex, who plans to sponsor the bill. “This will improve roadway safety, be good for the economy, and allow undocumented residents to support themselves and their families.”

According to Vitale, New Jersey would join a dozen other states and Washington, D.C., in offering a state ID card.

Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie opposed state ID cards for undocumented immigrants, but current Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said on the campaign trail that he supports them.

Johanna Calle, director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, noted that the ability to drive is critical for people hoping to live and work in the Garden State.

“As we know, New Jersey does not have the best public transportation. Many parts of the state are basically cut off completely,” Calle said. “A lot of community members have to travel hours to get to work or hours to take their kids to school. Even grocery shopping becomes a burden.”

Undocumented immigrants would benefit from a state ID card, Calle said, as well as senior citizens and formerly incarcerated people who may not possess the documents required to get a driver’s license.

“It’s not just the plight of undocumented people. It’s really the plight of a lot of community members who are starting to see that they’re having difficulty getting a driver’s license in New Jersey.”

The legislation would create two different tracks for getting ID in New Jersey. Those with a Social Security number could still get a federally compliant ID and driver’s license that would allow them to fly on commercial planes, for example.

People seeking only a driver’s license would only have to prove their age and provide two other documents showing that they live in New Jersey.

Somerdale resident Jamal Brown used to be homeless and went nearly three years without an official state ID before getting one a few weeks ago.

Brown suggested it can be difficult for homeless people, who have few possessions let alone personal documents, to meet the stringent requirements of getting an ID.

“A lot of people don’t have IDs, because [the state] wants so much, and there’s not other ways for [people] to get around it,” said Brown, who believes the law would “help a lot of people.”

Applicants for the state ID card would have to pass a driving exam and buy car insurance if they intend to drive.

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