By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Princeton Council members on Monday urged state lawmakers to allow illegal immigrants in New Jersey to get driver’s licenses, a view that local immigrants and their advocates endorsed.
Princeton joined eight other municipalities and two other counties — all Democrat towns or areas, including some with large Latino populations — to call for the change.
Democratic lawmakers in both houses of the state Legislature have introduced legislation to make New Jersey the 12th state in the nation that extends driver’s licenses to illegals. A copy of the resolution that council passed was to be sent to Gov. Chris Christie and the town’s legislative delegation of state Sen. Kip Bateman, Assemblywoman Donna Simon and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, (R-16)
Supporters framed their arguments by touting the safety and economic benefits of expanding driving privileges to a segment of the population in which many might drive, despite having no insurance or proper training. The council resolution read in part that “the safety of Princeton’s roads would be enhanced if all residents of appropriate driving age were tested, trained, licensed, and insured regardless of immigration status.”
“I think that people need reliable transportation, and we need to boost the economic participation of all the people in our community,” Councilwoman Jo S. Butler said Monday. “I think it is only an honorable and just thing to do.”
The resolution says between 153,000 and 278,000 illegal immigrants in New Jersey would apply for a license within the first three years of the law being changed.
“And it really does promote social justice and public safety by ensuring that people who are driving on the roads do have driver’s licenses,” said Councilwoman Heather H. Howard, who also addressed the audience in attendance in Spanish.
The local impetus came from the town’s Human Services Commission, which has advocated for this and other measures on behalf of illegal immigrants. As a sanctuary city, Princeton seeks to be welcoming to its undocumented population, drawn mainly from Central American countries like Honduras.
For instance, police do not comply with federal immigration authorities when they arrest someone with a civil detainer on them for being in the country illegally. More recently, the town sought to crack down on wage theft, a crime that impacts illegal immigrants in jobs like landscaping.
Public comment was limited on the issue. But with Elisa Neira, the town’s human services director, intepreting for him, Carlos Fernado of Princeton said many immigrants “know how to drive” and have experience doing so.
Princeton resident and commission member John Heilner said that many undocumented immigrants either don’t drive or drive illegally. He said that in addition to the 10 towns and counties in support of the change, 14 New Jersey mayors have expressed support for extending driving privileges to them.
For his part, Mr. Ciattarelli said by email Tuesday that he also was in favor of the idea.
“Short of any viable plan, which I’ve yet to hear, to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, bringing them out of the shadows and making a record of who they are would seemingly make our communities safer. Accomplishing that with a government issued, pictured driver’s license – something that is supported by members of the law enforcement community – is policy I can support,” he said. “Let’s keep in mind, we’re not talking about citizenship or the right to vote, which I do not support for undocumented immigrants. We’re talking about something everyone should support – public safety.”
In a related move Monday, the council passed a resolution having Mayor Liz Lempert join with other mayors in the country calling for immigration reform through a group called “Cities United for Immigrant Action.”
Also, the council voted to have Princeton become part of the organization, Welcoming America,” an organization that promotes a “welcoming atmosphere” for immigrants.
By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer