On Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill that will allow undocumented state residents to obtain a standard driver’s license or learner’s permit regardless of their status.
The news has been well received by more than 70 organizations that have advocated for the law under the Let’s Drive NJ banner and, according to NBC, a group of more than 500,000 New Jersey residents who will now have the option to legally drive.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a similar bill six months ago. The law went into effect on Monday, and Department of Motor Vehicles offices across the state have already seen an increase in traffic.
“It shouldn’t be a privilege to anyone, it’s something that people need to better improve their livelihood,” Yaritza Mendez, an organizer with Make The Road NY, told Democracy Now.
She was one of several activists on the program recognizing the 20 and 18 years of organizing, in New York and New Jersey respectively, for this moment to come to fruition.
New Jersey now joins its neighboring state, as well as 13 other states and Washington, DC, that have implemented the law.
This is one of several progressive bills the governor passed this week. Murphy also signed a bill restoring voting rights to 80,000 New Jersey residents who are on parole or probation, he inked the CROWN Act, which bans discrimination based on hairstyles associated with race and/or based on hair texture (e.g. dreadlocks) and he signed legislation that will expunge the records of individuals with low-level drug and nonviolent offenses if their record is kept clean for 10 years.
As others have noted, with access to licenses comes the risk of sharing private information and the concern that the data will be passed on or sold to federal immigration authorities – namely Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In North Carolina, ICE bought a year’s worth of driving records on undocumented immigrants for just $26.
Still, Murphy sees this as a necessary step forward. “Expanding access to driver’s licenses is critical for the safety of New Jerseyans and a step toward building a stronger and fairer New Jersey for all,” he wrote in a press statement.
“Let’s be clear, signing this bill today is not revolutionary,” he continued. “It’s a step to acknowledging that immigrants make our state and country better.”