Advocates Call On MVC To Share Information With Public On Plans To Expand Access To Driver’s Licenses Regardless of Immigration Status
MVC’s announcement of delay is missing key information on plans to implement law to expand eligibility to all New Jersey residents
NEW JERSEY — Monday, Jan. 11, 2021 — In response to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) announced delay on implementing expanded access to driver’s licenses, the Let’s Drive NJ coalition is calling on the Murphy Administration and the MVC to address concerns and questions of impacted residents. Repeated delays jeopardize transparent, timely implementation and further prevent impacted communities from being meaningfully involved in the process. The Coalition demands that the MVC work closely with advocates and immigrant community leaders to establish a timeline and begin a more effective roll-out of the program.
The landmark law signed by Governor Murphy in December 2019, which expands eligibility and improves access to a standard driver’s license or non-driver ID for nearly half-a-million New Jersey residents, was expected to go into effect this month.
“At a time when many immigrant families are without work or income relief due to the pandemic, New Jersey must maintain its promise to our communities. The MVC’s lack of transparency with the public has led to the spread of misinformation and instances of deceptive schemes to defraud residents who need a driver’s license,” said Amy Torres, Executive Director at the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, which convenes the Let’s Drive NJ Coalition. “In advance of his State of the State address, we urge Governor Murphy to continue the momentum and direct the MVC to adopt timely, responsible regulations and issue timelines for implementation and public education.”
On December 28th, just four days before the expected start date, the MVC announced that the agency was not ready to issue driver’s licenses for immigrants without status, putting hopes of more than 450,000 New Jersey immigrants and community members to apply for a driver’s license on pause.
“I do not agree with the decisions to push back access to driver’s licenses for everyone because we passed a bill into law in 2019 and MVC had a full year to prepare and have everything ready by January 2021 and now they say they won’t. It seems like a mockery to those of us who were waiting for the moment to have access to our driver’s license,” said Reynalda Cruz, Community Organizer with New Labor.
“Right now, New Jersey’s Latinx and immigrant communities are hurting due to the pandemic and economic losses, and the delay in access to a driver’s license is an affront to our communities when we are already knocked down. Mobility and inclusion for our community members continue to be stalled. This is not a time for excuses. Advocates are ready to work with the MVC to get the process started,” said Frank Argote-Freyre, President Emeritus of Latino Action Network. “The passage of this law can not be considered a win for New Jersey until all residents regardless of their immigration status have the opportunity to earn a driver’s license. Governor Murphy and the MVC Chief Fulton must release a plan for implementation and that starts with finalizing the regulations and communicating the process with the public.”
“The MVC delays on implementation means I will have to continue putting myself at risk due to the pandemic. Every day, I have to take public transportation or a taxi to be able to get to work. I urge the MVC to take action and implement the standard driver’s license. Our communities need the ability to drive without fear,” said Guilibadlo D. member of Make the Road NJ.
In the statement, the agency cites COVID-19 delays, staff shortages, hands-on training requirements, and software updates, but offered no details on addressing these concerns or the regulations necessary to roll out the law. Other key details that remain unclear are a date to approve final regulations and a proposed date for when newly eligible residents can apply for a driver’s license at their local MVC agency.
“This most recent delay is not the first time that the MVC has deprioritized implementation of this law. A plan to launch a public education campaign about the rules of this new law is already more than six months behind,” said Katy Sastre, Campaign Strategist at the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “Given the MVC Board’s capability for virtual meetings, the vote to approve the regulations should not be encumbered by COVID-19 delays the agency is facing.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made it very difficult for immigrant communities to survive,” said Cristian Dardon, Wind of the Spirit Colectivo Member. “Nevertheless, we have contributed to the state of New Jersey in all the ways possible to us through our dedicated work. We are frustrated by the incompetence and lack of vision of the Motor Vehicles Commission (MVC) who are not looking for the appropriate mechanisms to make driver’s licenses a reality in New Jersey. Many immigrant families have been waiting for this opportunity for more than 25 years. Therefore, this law that passed in December 2019 must be implemented and not set aside. Especially in times of crisis like the ones we are living.”
“We are deeply concerned at the decision of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission to delay implementation of the vital 2019 law that granted access to driver’s licenses to all New Jersey residents without regard to immigration status or their access to documentation,” said Kevin Brown, New Jersey State Director and Vice President of SEIU 32BJ. “The ability to move about safely and freely during the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial for essential workers and all New Jerseyans, for their everyday needs and to maintain our economy moving; for many, this is next to impossible without access to a valid drivers’ license. We urge the MVC to immediately release regulations inclusive of all state residents and to provide us a sensible timeline on the implementation of licenses for all. Let’s keep New Jersey moving.”
The Let’s Drive NJ Coalition calls on Governor Murphy to direct the MVC to finalize the regulations that uphold the intent of this legislation — namely, allowing all qualified residents regardless of immigration status to have equitable access. The Coalition has urged the MVC to revise its proposed regulations to make the new license program accessible to all qualified New Jerseyans.
Once the regulations are finalized, the MVC must set a clear start date for when eligible residents without immigration status can start to apply for a standard driver’s license and begin a statewide public awareness campaign on the rules that New Jersey residents must follow in order to do so.
“We are outraged that the MVC will not issue driver’s licenses now in January as the law Governor Murphy signed requires,” said Chris Campos, Member of New Labor. “There is so much need in the immigrant community to be able to have their license and drive without fear. MVC has set aside our humanity and well-being, when we all know that it is a reciprocal benefit for both the immigrant community and the state, generating economic resources, pay for insurance. With a driver’s license, we can feel safer to drive in a more assured way.”
Let’s Drive NJ brings together over eighty community, faith, labor, social service, and advocacy organizations to push to expand access to driver’s licenses in the Garden State.