By Brenda Flanagan
Hundreds chanted in Spanish at the War Memorial and marched through Trenton for the right to get a New Jersey driver’s license — even though they’re in the U.S. without the proper documents. They testified before the Assembly Homeland Security Committee. Carla Estrada talked about spending hours on the bus.
“My parents couldn’t take me to school. They were afraid because they did not know the area too well, they would be stopped by police and that means, for them because of their immigration status, that they would actually be deported.” she said.
Maria Pereira’s husband drove to work without a license until his luck ran out.
“My husband was arrested by the police when he was coming back from work. We had to pay for a lawyer to represent us—along with fines to the court—all while in fear of being deported,” Pereira said.
“These individuals want the opportunity to apply for a driver’s license, so that the next time they go grocery shopping, or the next time they take the child to school, would not be the last time they see their family,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijana.
Sponsors say a driver’s license could enhance the lives of more than 450,000 undocumented people who live and work in New Jersey. About a dozen states already already offer the privilege — and, like the California version — would be restricted to state use only with a printed warning: “Federal Limits May Apply.”
“There will be documents they must provide that will prove their identity, prove their date of birth and prove their residency in the state of New Jersey,” Quijana said.
But in the wake of attacks by ISIS terrorists in Paris, the proposed license legislation encountered stiff resistance.
“Is there a vetting problem? I think there’s a big vetting problem.What’s going to happen with people that are coming in from the Middle East? Notice the person who came into Paris came through Greece from Syria. So it’s a bad bill, wrong time,” said John Tomicki.
“If you look at just what happened around the world, TSA confirmed that those licenses could be utilized to get on airplanes. That was just in the last few months. There are a lot of things that do impact on national security issues,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi.
“I trust that our TSA agents who are specially trained are going to see that ‘Federal Limits May Apply,'” said Assemblyman Raj Mukherji.
Governor Christie issued a statement condemning the bill, saying to give “…the most important piece of Homeland Security identification…to people with no definitive proof of their identity…in the current environment is not only irresponsible, but dangerous.”
The governor flatly stated, if this bill ever gets to his desk, he will veto it “immediately.” With Republican lawmakers also expressing deep concerns, this driver’s license proposal faces a very difficult road.