The city council approved a resolution expressing its support for a state law change that would expand driving privileges to unauthorized immigrants.
Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres, who has called for expanding driving rights to those who immigrated to the United States illegally, presented the resolution for the council’s support.
“The safety of Paterson’s roads would be enhanced if all residents of appropriate driving age were educated, tested, licensed, and insured, regardless of their immigration status,” reads the resolution approved Tuesday evening.
Council members were mixed on the support resolution.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, said many have told him granting driving privileges to illegal immigrants is unfair. He said many, who arrived in the country legally, were not granted “leniencies” but had to work hard to obtain their citizenships.
Morris found issue with the resolution’s language describing immigrants who come to the country illegally as undocumented. “By undocumented are we saying illegal?” he asked.
A campaign in the past years has successfully curbed the use of the term “illegal immigrant” to describe those who illegally entered the United States.
Alex Mendez, councilman at-large, thought unauthorized immigrants should get be able to obtain driver’s licenses. He said he has been part of a movement to see New Jersey among the states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Oregon – that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
11 states plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico also allow undocumented immigrants driving licenses.
“We have to wait for Trenton to make the decision,” said Mendez. “Personally, I don’t have much faith for this to happen until after the Christie administration.”
464,000 out of 525,000 undocumented residents will benefit from a law change, according to the New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal think tank. The think tank estimates the state could rake in millions of dollars in revenue from license fees.
A larger insurance pool would also drive down insurance cost for New Jersey drivers, according to the think tank.
“This is going to be a big plus if we as a state make this happen,” said Mendez.
Mohammad Aktaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman, said allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses will allow them to hold jobs and drive to their place of employment without hindrance.
“They are good residents. They just don’t have any status,” said Aktaruzzaman.
Just as the immigration issue is contentious on the state and federal level so it was at the council.
“Fundamentally, it doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m unable to reconcile the undocumented status with giving a legal, legitimate privilege,” said council president William McKoy. “This represents too much of a contradiction in my mind.”
McKoy voted against the resolution while Morris and Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman, abstained.
Torres is also pushing a related municipal identification card program that would allow the city to issue ID cards to unauthorized immigrants and others. The measure was before the council on December 1st, 2015; however, the council put off the measure.