With the election in the rearview mirror, N.J. advocates renew call for driver’s licenses for immigr

Nov 8, 2019

When Adriana Gomez was 2 years old, she moved to the United States from Mexico. Now, she is a full-time teacher in New Jersey.

She worries that she may lose her driver’s license if the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, is eliminated. The Supreme Court starts oral arguments for DACA’s future next week.

Hundred rallied outside the New Jersey Statehouse to push for driver's licenses for immigrants. (Joe Hernandez)

That’s why it is crucial that New Jersey enshrine the right of immigrants to get driver’s licenses, she said.

“Without this license, I may lose my job. I will no longer be able to drive my father to his doctor’s appointments or to work,” she said.

Gomez was one of hundreds of people who rallied outside the Statehouse in Trenton on Thursday morning to push New Jersey lawmakers to join 13 other states and Washington, D.C., in extending driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

Advocates renewed their call after Tuesday’s statewide election. Democratic leaders had not put the controversial measure up for full consideration before the November vote.

“The legislation to expand access to driver’s licenses to more residents remains a work in progress,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, said in a statement. “I look forward to a thoughtful and thorough review of the final product, at which time the bill will go through the standard legislative process.”

Advocates say that without driver’s licenses, immigrants spend more time getting to work, school, medical appointments, and a host of other daily activities. It also makes traveling in emergencies more perilous.

But critics have argued that it is hypocritical to offer driver’s licenses to people who are not U.S. citizens.

State Sen. Nellie Pou, D-Passaic, said the legislature would take action on the bill during the lame-duck session. “There is no more time to wait,” she told the crowd.

Speakers said it has been shown that motorists are safer when drivers are trained and licensed and that it was unfair to deny immigrants who work and pay taxes the ability to drive legally.

“This is about the safety of our children. This is about the safety of our roads,” said Patricia Medina-Campos, president of political action committee LUPE PAC. “This is about making New Jersey live up to its commitment that we are a state that welcomes immigrants.”