Expecting — and praying for — licenses for undocumented this year
Advocates for driver’s licenses for immigrants who aren’t legally in the country say they’re confident lawmakers will vote to approve them within two months.
Their latest push for their cause came Thursday, when they were joined by rabbis and pastors for a prayer circle near the Statehouse, to make the case that providing driving privileges to such immigrants is the moral thing to do.
“My tradition teaches me that we have the same law for the citizen and for the stranger,” said Rabbi Joel Abraham of Temple Sholom in Scotch Plains.
“The Holy Scripture said clearly that you are responsible for your community,” said the Rev. Moacir Weirich of St. Stephan’s Grace Community, a Lutheran church in Newark. “If one of our elected officials lives in a nice, protected place in New Jersey says, ‘It’s not my problem,’ it’s your problem, too. It’s a moral obligation that you have to the whole community.”
“The understanding that I have from my Christian tradition is that laws that we pass and laws that we practice where we live should be liberating and not oppressing laws,” said Sammy Arroyo, pastor at First United Methodist Church of Hightstown.
A number of religious passages were read and prayers recited.
“And may God bless each legislator with enough foolishness to believe that you, that you can make a difference in this world. You can do what others claim cannot be done,” said Rabbi Larry Sernovitz of Nafshenu, a progressive Jewish community founded last year in South Jersey.
Undocumented immigrants spoke in Spanish at the event of having to wait a half hour for taxis or Uber drivers, for things as simple as a trip to the supermarket or even emergency trips to a hospital. One said undocumented immigrants feel like prey being stalked by predators.
“We don’t want to live in fear. It’s not fair. We’re all human,” said Rosa, of Roselle, through a translator. “And most of all we don’t know want to feel discriminated, like we have been feeling the past few years. Licenses for all. It’s what’s just.”
Johanna Calle, director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said driver’s license advocates have been told to wait but that it’s no longer possible because of growing fears a minor traffic infraction could lead to deportation.
“So we’re expecting now that this moves this year. We have been telling our leaders that this has to get to the governor’s desk by December,” Calle said. “And we still stand by that deadline, and we still stand by that goal, because we know it can be done.”
Gov. Phil Murphy has said he supports the idea, as does Senate President Steve Sweeney. Calle said questions have been addressed about privacy, to ensure that information provided to obtain the specially marked licenses would be protected and not shared with federal government.
“There is willingness there. There’s really no reason that we can’t move forward. This is the time,” she said. “We know they’re supportive, and we’re confident that they’re going to make this happen, and we’re going to get a bill to the governor’s desk by the end of the year.”
Twelve states now allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for driver’s licenses.
The licenses are marked in an effort to prevent them from being used as valid identification to board airplanes or to register to vote.