Jersey City Council passes resolution allowing driver’s licenses for undocumented residents

Taking children to school makes travel by car necessary in New Jersey.

Taking children to school makes travel by car necessary in New Jersey.

The Jersey City Council on May 28 approved a resolution allowing the Motor Vehicle Commission to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented residents. The resolution, urging the state government to enact supporting legislation, was approved unanimously.

The vote makes Jersey City the eighth city in New Jersey to pass this type of resolution, following Camden, Elizabeth, New Brunswick, Perth Amboy, Plainfield, Dover, and Bridgeton.

Jersey City has the largest immigrant population in the state. More than 40 percent of residents are foreign-born. Filipinos are among the communities that have a big ethnic presence in the city.

“We laud the passing of the resolution,” said Yves Nibungco, organizer of the Filipino Immigrants and Workers Organizing Project (FIWOP) and a city resident. “This is a victory for the Filipino immigrant workers who continue to advocate for the advancement of immigrant and workers’ rights.”

Nibungco urged the Filipino community to get involved. He said, “Call your legislators and tell them that you want driver’s license for all New Jerseyans, regardless of immigration status.”

Joelle Lingat, chairperson of Anakbayan New Jersey, said the passage of the resolution is “just one step towards the genuine immigration reform that necessitates system change.”

She added, “Just as we, youth and students, have been uplifted by migrant workers and farmers, we must in return support immigrant families and communities in this small reprieve.” New Jersey Driver's License (credit: Evan Bindelglass / WCBS 880)

Advocates across the state have been working with local communities to urge their mayors, municipalities and counties to pass resolutions in support the state legislation that would benefit around 464,000 people in the state. The legislation would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses for the purposes of driving in the state, if they pass driving and identity tests.

According to New Jersey Policy Perspective report Share the Road, this type of policy would create a revenue of $5 million in licensing fees and it would lower insurance premiums to all residents of the state by creating 209 million dollars in insurance premium revenue.

“These immigrants are our parents, siblings, neighbors and friends who need to get to work and support their families like everyone else in New Jersey,” said Chia-Chia Wang, organizing and advocacy director at American Friends Service Committee. “Driver’s license is a basic and necessary state level policy that only increases public safety and benefit economy and working families.”

Many undocumented immigrants are driving without a license, which many do to go to work or to take their children to school. In many parts of New Jersey it is necessary to travel by car rather than public transportation.

“Based on a survey conducted in April of this year, nine out of 10 Filipinos in Jersey City agree with allowing undocumented immigrants the privilege to drive. According to our constituents, taking public transportation would take them two to three hours to reach their work places compared to 20 to 30 minutes by driving,” said Hanalei Ramos, organizer at FIWOP.

This policy will also provide some relief to immigrants who are afraid of being deported due to interactions with law enforcement. It also would lower the amount of unlicensed drivers on the roads, therefore making them safer for everyone.

“Caretakers, family members of undocumented families risk their lives to come to the United States to have a better future for their children,” said Monica Calderon, Director at Action 21. “Oftentimes, and in order to survive, fathers and mothers continue to risk their well-being by driving without a licenses/insurance to their jobs, or by walking on highways, where they compromise the safety, not only their own, but also the rest of the population.”

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