A controversial bill that would allow unauthorized immigrants in New Jersey to obtain a state driver’s license moved forward Monday — despite a rare proclamation from Gov. Chris Christie that he would veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.

The state Assembly’s homeland security committee voted 3-2 along party lines to approve the measure (A4425), which would establish a license for residents who cannot prove they are living in the U.S. legally.

Hundreds of people rallied at the Statehouse in Trenton to support the bill, and advocates for both sides debated its merits for hours in front of the committee.

In a highly unusual move, Christie — a Republican presidential candidate — issued a statement in the middle of the hearing saying he is “disturbed” that the Democratic-controlled state Legislature is “even considering the bill.”

“As a former United States Attorney, I know that the driver’s license is the single most important piece of homeland security identification,” Christie said. “Yet, the Legislature proposes giving that to people with no definitive proof of their identity. To consider doing this in the current environment is not only irresponsible, but dangerous.”

“If it were to ever reach my desk, it would be vetoed immediately,” he added.

The bill seeks to have New Jersey join 12 states and Washington D.C. who already have laws allowing unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

More than half a million residents — or about one in every 20 people — in New Jersey are unauthorized immigrants. And supporters of the measure say many of them drive without taking a test to get a license, registration, and insurance.

Critics, however, said even if unauthorized immigrants are allowed licenses, that doesn’t mean they will obtain insurance.

They also argued that enacting the legislation compromises New Jersey’s security — especially in the wake of the Paris attacks, in which authorities say one of the attackers used a fake Syrian passport to enter Europe.

“This is one of my biggest, grave concerns — particularly with what’s going on in the world right now — that we’re providing a document,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen), one of the two Republicans on the panel who voted against advancing the bill. “With a driver’s license, you can do more than just drive. You can purchase a firearm in pretty much every state. You can board an airplane. You can open bank accounts.”

Schepisi said she doesn’t want New Jersey to send a message saying, “Okay, if you don’t have driving privileges, and if you are here illegally, come to New Jersey and you can get all these things.”

Instead, Schepisi said, the bill should be amended to include steps to make it safer — including fingerprinting applicants, setting up a waiting period, and requiring people to prove they’ve been living in New Jersey for a substantial amount of time.

Pat DeFilippis of Toms River had a similar view.

“There’s terrorists, and we don’t know who they are and where they come from,” DeFilippis told the panel, “and we’re going to give licenses to people who don’t belong in this country in the first place? Why are we pandering to people who don’t belong here?”

Under the bill, applicants would have to be able to prove their identity, date of birth, and residency in New Jersey. If they can’t, they would have to obtain alternative documents that would be reviewed by the state Motor Vehicle Commissions. Those residents would have to pay as much as $50 more for the license on top of the usual fees.

Quijano said the measure would also require that the licenses specify that they are valid only for driving and they would not be considered federal IDs.

Carla Estrada, 24, of Pennsauken, said when she was a student at Camden County College, she spent about six hours commuting on buses for a simple reason: Her parents are unauthorized immigrants, and they would not drive her 30 minutes to campus out of fear they stopped by police and deported.

“In a week, I would spend up to 24 hours on the bus instead of doing something more productive, like going to my job and earning more hours, so I could help pay for my college,” said Estrada, who has since gained legal status under an executive order by President Obama.

The bill now advances to the Assembly’s appropriations committee.

 

Source - Star Ledger