March, petition demand driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants

Hundreds of people who support undocumented immigrants’ right to get driver’s licenses are expected to march to the Statehouse in Trenton Thursday morning to urge state lawmakers to act on the New Jersey Safe and Responsible Driver Act.

The bill, introduced in January, would extend driving privileges to undocumented immigrants as well as homeless people, veterans, domestic violence victims, those displaced by disasters or anyone else unlikely to have the six forms of identification New Jersey requires to get a driver’s license.

Twelve states and Washington, D.C., already have expanded access to driver’s licenses for qualified drivers, regardless of immigration status.

Several ways to advocate

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton supports the bill and encourages others to write or call their representatives or sign a petition here asking lawmakers to pass it.

Catholic Charities staffers and clients will join the Marcha por Licencias (March for Licenses), which is set to start at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. A community coalition called Let’s Drive NJ organized the effort.

Catholic Charities participants will begin marching from El Centro, located at 327 S. Broad St. in Trenton. El Centro is a Catholic Charities program that has served the Spanish-speaking community since 1999 by providing help with basic needs, job training, ESL, parenting classes and immigration services.

Anyone can participate in the march.

The bill’s supporters say it would make New Jersey’s roads safer because more drivers would be trained, licensed, insured and accountable for their driving record. Drivers who are licensed and insured also are less likely to flee the scene of an accident, supporters say.

Expanding driver’s licenses to people historically excluded from them also would create a new source of revenue for the state, which is projected to collect more than $12 million in license fees in the first three years of implementation, supporters add. Nearly 500,000 undocumented immigrants live in New Jersey, according to the Pew Research Center.

A safety issue

“It really is a safety issue: We should know who’s on the road,” said Marlene Laó-Collins, Catholic Charities’ executive director (pictured, left). “Everyone who drives on our roads should receive the same training as everyone else and have insurance coverage.”

Attorney Jennifer Sullivan (pictured, right) heads up Catholic Charities’ advocacy efforts. She pointed out that having fewer unlicensed, uninsured drivers on the road should help drive down insurance costs for everyone in a state that ranks among the most expensive in the nation for car insurance.

“We must show our elected officials that the time for action on this issue is now,” Sullivan said. “It is important for everyone to have access to a driver’s license so that they can get to their jobs, schools, and homes.”

For help: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton offers immigration assistance. Call El Centro at (609) 394-2056 or our Access, Help and Information Center at (800) 360-7711.

For more information, contact Dana DiFilippo, communications, at (609) 394-5181, ext. 1153.

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