MVC Misses Deadline for New License Regulations for Undocumented Immigrants
On 12/18/2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill into law that would create a path for undocumented immigrants to acquire driver’s licenses in New Jersey. At the time of the signing, COVID was a minor blip on the radar. However, over the last year, COVID has disrupted the processes to create that path and New Jersey will not be able to meet the January 1st, 2021 deadline. A new date for implementation has not yet been established due to the uncertainty surrounding COVID.
How The New Law Will Affect New Jersey Drivers
It is estimated by the Motor Vehicle Commission that the new regulations would have extended driving privileges to approximately 450,000 of New Jersey’s approximately 500,000 undocumented immigrants. Due to the hurdles created by COVID, this large number of people will have to wait to seek out driving privileges in New Jersey.
The new law intended to create two paths to obtaining a driver’s license. One license would have followed the regulations set in place by the Real ID Act. This type of license would have indicated a person’s citizenship status, allowed them to board airplanes, and could be used for federal identification.
The second type of license would have allowed a person to be given the freedom to operate a motor vehicle with an ID that does not indicate citizenship status. The second type of ID would not be used for federal identification. This is the type of license that undocumented immigrant interest groups have lobbied for since 2014.
The process in which undocumented immigrants would have been able to get a license would be almost identical to how a US citizen acquires a license. New license applicants would have to fill out an application form and bring with them the Six Points of ID that are required by the MVC. The four requirements for the six points of ID are:
- At least one primary ID
- At least one secondary ID
- Verifiable Social Security number
- Proof of address
The MVC has an online system that calculates points for different forms of ID, delegating higher points to different forms of ID. For example, a US birth certificate is worth four points, whereas a college ID is worth two points.
Social Security Challenges
A major challenge that arose in this process is in the “verifiable Social Security number” component. The new law states that if someone does not have a Social Security number, they would have to present their Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. If they are unable to acquire that number, they would need to receive a letter from the Social Security Administration stating they are ineligible to receive a Social Security number.
Creating a path to obtaining a driver’s license for undocumented immigrants is not an unheard-of concept. It has successfully started in numerous other states across the country. Currently, fourteen other states and the District of Columbia that allow undocumented immigrants to acquire licenses. They include California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.
Advocates for undocumented immigrants state that that process would be burdensome and would discourage people from acquiring their licenses. Additionally, there is a lingering fear regarding providing identifying information to federal agencies for individuals who are undocumented.
Concerns and Complications For Immigration License Updates
In August 2020, the New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union chapter senior staff attorney Farrin Annello stated, “A first category of concern that our coalition has [is] ensuring accessibility of driver’s licenses, ensuring that we don’t have unreasonable and arbitrary requirements that deter people from applying that create unreasonable delays in the process, or unreasonable costs and expenses that would mean that people who are struggling to make ends meet have to forgo the ability to get a driver’s license.”
In late December, New Jersey MVC Chief Administrator Sue Fulton issued the following statement: “Status-neutral licensing is important for many New Jerseyans, but the demands on MVC due to COVID-19 have made it impossible for us to complete the training and software changes required to implement it.”
The MVC has struggled with a variety of setbacks and struggles between March and June, when their offices closed. However, Fulton also stated, “We are hopeful that we will get past the worst of the pandemic in the next few months so we can get this done for those who sorely need it.”
New Jersey prohibits the MVC from sharing any information with federal authorities for immigration purposes. That prohibition also extends to state and local law enforcement authorities. The only way the MVC can share information is if an individual consents to doing so. It can also be done through a warrant, court order, or subpoena.
Other Issues For Immigration License Changes
It is not only COVID regulations that have disrupted operations. A number of employees have also tested positive for the virus. By mid-December, almost half of the 39 agencies had temporarily closed. Some offices began reopening in late December; however, the ongoing threat of COVID creates a continual disruption to MVC operations.
In a press conference last Monday, Governor Murphy expressed both sympathy and support for the MVC. He stated, “COVID has clobbered a lot of plans” and that he hoped operations would resume “…by no later than spring.”
However, lobbyists at Make the Road New Jersey, a special-interest group representing undocumented immigrants, expressed disappointment at the news. The group has stated they believe the MVC has delayed implementation of this new law. The law passed before COVID began disrupting life.
Proponents of expanded access to operator’s licenses argue that driving privileges are more critical now with COVID. Driving to doctor’s appointments, or reducing exposure by having friends or family drive, can reduce the spread of the virus.
Additionally, they argue that licenses for undocumented immigrants will increase public highway safety. Other benefits include reduced auto insurance rates, additional taxes generated, and economic participation encouraged.
Critics of the new regulations raise concerns over safety, human trafficking, and fraud.
If you have questions about how this new licensing law will work, contact New Jersey attorney Leon Matchin.