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New Jersey plan would let undocumented immigrants get driver’s licenses

Cecilia, an undocumented immigrant living in Mercer County, says she drives scared for the 15 minutes it takes her to get to work. But her commute would be difficult any other way.

“You don’t have options unless you take two or three buses to get to a job,” said the 50-year-old woman, who has lived in the United States for more than a decade. “You always feel when you go out of your house, you pray to God the police doesn’t stop you for any reason or you are not involved in any accident.”

Cecilia, who asked that her last name not be disclosed, is one of an estimated nearly half-million undocumented immigrants of driving age in New Jersey who aren’t eligible to get driver’s licenses, according to New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal think tank.

State lawmakers are again pushing a plan that would allow them to drive legally.

“That’s my dream,” Cecilia said. “That’s been my dream for years.”

Similar bills have appeared in the New Jersey Legislature on and off for the last dozen years, but advocates said they are hopeful about their chances with the one introduced in the Senate last week — and with one-party control of state government. Gov. Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D., Gloucester) have both said they support the proposal.

If the bill passes, New Jersey would join 12 other states, including Delaware and Maryland, and the District of Columbia in giving driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, who often drive without them or find other means to get around.

Besides allowing people to drive legally, the licenses also act as identification for residents looking for jobs, housing, and health care. The bill would not allow undocumented immigrants to receive state services or use the licenses to vote, since they are not citizens.

The bill’s sponsors said the legislation also will benefit others who lack or have lost key identification documents.

Supporters say giving driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants will make all residents safer, since some immigrants are already driving without licenses and car insurance. Opponents decry extending the privilege to people who are in the country illegally.

CONTINUE @PHILLY