Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday signed a measure into law allowing unauthorized immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

Surrounded by cheering immigrant-rights groups in Elizabeth, Murphy said “today is a simple recognition that our immigrant communities are a vital part of our state and our economy.”

The new law creates two types of New Jersey driver’s licenses: a federally required Real ID and a standard basic license.

The Real ID license, which is only available to individuals with documentation of their legal residency status and with several proofs of identification, will be required to fly on a plane or enter a federal facility starting in October of next year.

The standard basic driver’s license will be available to all Garden State residents, regardless of immigration status, but will also require multiple proofs of identification.

During the bill signing ceremony, Murphy said “our roads will be safer, and our ranks of uninsured drivers will be lower, and that’s good for all of us.”

The law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2021, but it’s possible the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission could begin issuing standard basic licenses before then.

A request for clarification was made to the MVC on this, but an answer was not immediately forthcoming.

During testimony before the state Senate Transportation Committee on Dec. 12, MVC Chief Administrator Sue Fulton told lawmakers that many unauthorized immigrants are driving without a license because they can’t get one, and her job is to ensure driver safety.

“In my view, our roads are safer when our drivers are trained, tested, licensed and insured," she said.

An AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report found over a two-year period, nearly 20% of fatal crashes involved unlicensed or invalidly licensed drivers.

She said that the opportunity to obtain a driver’s license “will open the doors for hundreds of thousands of immigrants on our roads already to study and train for our testing. We can ensure that they understand signs, signals and the rules of the road.”

She also pointed out that unlicensed drivers are more likely to flee the scene of a crime, even if they are a victim or a witness.

She said in order to be able to get a standard license, all applicants will be required to present multiple forms of identification as well as utility bills and bank statements to establish proof of residency.

“We cannot and will not issue anyone an identity credential such as a driver's license without substantial proof of identity," Fulton said. “We reject the notion that licensing without regard to immigration status means we would hand out ID cards without proof of identity, age and residence.”

She stressed this should not be an issue because “hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents do not have proof of lawful presence but have a number of legitimate documents such as passports, visas and birth certificates from their home countries.”

She also said a driver’s license should not be looked as a reward for good citizenship.

“It’s a tool used by the state. It’s a permit to drive on our public roads. It is no more, no less than a way for us to keep our roads and drivers safe.”

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