Driver licenses for undocumented immigrants in New Jersey has always languished in the New Jersey legislature, but with a new Governor receptive to the idea, there are some new bills that appear to be gaining traction. Ironically, the impetus is New Jersey’s need to comply with the federal REAL ID Act of 2005. Currently, New Jersey driver licenses do not conform; and if not addressed by October 10, 2019, residents may soon find themselves unable to board planes or enter federal facilities, since federal officials will only accept REAL ID compliant documents. Information about REAL ID can be found here: https://www.dhs.gov/real-id-public-faqs.
Under the proposed bill, New Jersey would create two tiers of licenses: one, a federally compliant license and the other, a standard one that cannot be used for REAL ID purposes. Illegal and undocumented individuals who qualify would be granted the standard license. Other than serving as a driving permit and form of identification, the standard license would not be valid for purposes such as boarding a plane, entering federal facilities, or voting (which some opponents unreasonably fear those without status will attempt to do, which is ludicrous; nothing could be further from the truth, since voting by non-US citizens is a deportable offense.) If approved, New Jersey will join only a small handful of states that extend driving licenses to immigrants without status. Currently, those states are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
Whether this bill will come to fruition, of course, is an open question, especially given the vagaries of public opinion and politics. Opponents are actively marshalling their resources to vigorously contest it. Whether or not the bill passes, the debate does highlight two issues that we frequently see among the undocumented population. For one, foreign nationals should be aware when their passports expire. Eventually at some point, NJ will have to enforce the READ ID Act. Should a person not qualify for a federally-compliant ID for whatever reason, an unexpired foreign passport may be necessary if one wishes to board a plane and fly domestically within the US. Another issue concerns residential addresses. It is tempting for undocumented individuals to apply for and receive licenses from one of the aforementioned twelve states where they do not actually live. This can be a potential problem. Misrepresenting or furnishing false information, such as an address, in connection with obtaining a government benefit is, in nearly all cases, a criminal offense. Furthermore, there is a fraud aspect that may color, if not prejudice, a federal officer’s perception or adjudication of a case. While driving is pretty much a necessity in the Garden State, individuals without status must be especially careful in how they obtain licenses.
The above is general information only and not to be relied upon as legal advice. It does not create an attorney-client relationship, nor should it be relied upon in lieu of consultation with an attorney.