Expanding Eligibility for Driver Licenses and State Identifications
Hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants are estimated to live in New Jersey. These immigrants make critical contributions to our state, including an estimated $476 million in state and local taxes per year, but often live in fear and face barriers to meeting their families’ basic needs because they lack driver’s licenses and/or government-issued ID.
In New Jersey, driving is a necessity of life, but for immigrant families, driving to work or to dropping one’s children at school can lead to deportation. Permitting all New Jerseyans who are qualified and eligible to drive—regardless of immigration status— to apply for driver’s licenses would make New Jersey’s roads and highways safer, strengthen our economy and increase the wellbeing of our families. According to a New Jersey Police Perspective’s report, there would be $245 million in new insurance payments and an expanded pool of insured drivers, which help hold premium payments down for everyone. In the first three years, the state would collect between $5.2 million and $9.5 million in license and permit fees and upwards of $7 million in new registration fees.
New Jersey has the third largest percentage of immigrants in the nation, yet it lags behind the eleven states and Washington, D.C., which currently permit undocumented immigrant residents to apply for driver’s licenses. According to New Jersey Policy Perspective, about 464,000 of New Jersey’s estimated 525,000 undocumented residents stand to benefit from a change in the state’s policy on driver licenses. New Jersey must join the ranks of these states and provide eligibility for driver licenses for all qualified drivers. Resolutions in support of driver licenses have already passed in Bridgeton, Camden, Dover, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Maplewood, New Brunswick, Newark, Northfield, Paterson, Princeton, Perth Amboy, Plainfield, Trenton, Victory Gardens, as well as Union, Hudson, Cumberland, Essex, Camden, and Mercer County.
Undocumented New Jerseyans face barriers to accessing government –issued ID to present to the police, open bank accounts, enter their children’s schools, or report a crime. State identification cards currently requires the same documentation as driver’s licenses, limiting many people, immigrants and non-immigrants, from obtaining a government issued identification. A diverse number of New Jersey municipalities, including Elizabeth, Newark, Roselle, Dover, Perth Amboy, Paterson, Highland Park, Union City, and Plainfield have established successful and popular municipal ID programs, —in fact, New Jersey has the most municipal ID programs of any state in the country, an indicator of the need for this to be addressed at the state level.
NJAIJ urges our state legislature to expand access to driver’s licenses and state identification card to all qualified residents, regardless of immigration status, and to implement strong privacy protections of cardholders’ personal information. This measure will increase public safety by making our roads safer and strengthen community engagement by providing residents with the ability to interact with state and local law enforcement.
Bring Trust Back
When local law enforcement voluntarily cooperates with or works on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), significant gaps in trust and cooperation grow between immigrant communities and the police. When there are close ties between local law enforcement and ICE, immigrants are less likely to report crimes, act as witnesses in criminal investigations and prosecutions, or provide intelligence to law enforcement. Better community policing depends on building trust with every community.
Currently, Attorney General Directive 2007-03 requires local police departments to inquire about the immigration status of certain arrestees and share it with ICE. Local police and county jails in New Jersey are further cooperating voluntarily with ICE by honoring warrantless detainer requests and administrative warrants issued by ICE, providing ICE agents with access to jail facilities and inmates, and using local resources to aid ICE enforcement actions. Federal law does not require states to aid ICE enforcement actions and New Jersey - and its localities - should not be in the business of immigration enforcement.
NJAIJ urges our state to join states and localities around the country in adopting policies to ensure our state becomes a true sanctuary state, establishing clear separations between our state resources and federal immigration enforcement. This includes declining to cooperate with ICE requests to detain an individual unless ICE provides a judicially-issued warrant, and declining to use local resources to facilitate ICE enforcement such as access to databases, public facilities, or schools. ICE should not be allowed to enter courts across the state to conduct federal enforcement activities. Additionally, New Jersey should repeal and replace sections of AG Directive 2007-03 to ensure law enforcement does not inquire into immigration status.
Ending Unconstitutional Detention of Immigrants
Four counties in New Jersey contract with the federal government through the 287g program to deputize local law enforcement to perform immigration law enforcement functions. Additionally, three counties – Bergen, Essex and Hudson, have entered into lucrative Intergovernmental Service Agreements (IGSA) through the rental of county jail space to ICE for immigration detention. These types of contracts undermine the criminal justice system and erode the community’s trust in local police, while using county resources and time to detain immigrants on behalf of the federal government. Such agreements also open localities to liabilities due to possible violations of civil rights of those detained. The due process and civil rights of community members, immigrant and nonimmigrant, are often violated due to substandard conditions and deteriorating services.
NJAIJ urges counties and localities to oppose all 287g and IGSA contracts with ICE and encourages the state to do everything in its power to incentivize localities not to contract with ICE. Additionally, New Jersey should have a detention oversight committee that ensures that the conditions and services for all detainees in state and county jails adhere to human rights standards and maintain the dignity of those currently held in facilities paid by taxpayers.
Due Process for All
Immigrants who are facing immigration deportation proceedings are not guaranteed free legal representation because immigration proceedings are civil, not criminal. This violates immigrants’ due process and keeps people in detention for long periods of time. Most immigrants who face court hearings without representation lose their case and low income immigrants are less likely to be able to afford representation. States like New York and major cities across the country have already implemented public legal defense programs to represent immigrants who can’t afford legal counsel.
NJAIJ calls upon our state to prioritize due process and rule of law by establishing a statewide legal counsel program to provide representation in civil proceedings to those who cannot afford it. This will prevent families from being separated due to inability to pay an attorney.