Giving Young Undocumented Immigrants Driver’s Licenses Benefits All
For many New Jersey young people, getting a driver’s license is a critical on-ramp to their road to success. With 420,000 college students statewide but dormitories on less than half of all campuses, ours is a state where access to educational opportunity for hundreds of thousands of students can depend on being able to drive to school. But current licensing regulations are a major roadblock for nearly half a million New Jersey residents who cannot access a driver’s license because they are undocumented.
Out of New Jersey’s 100,000 young dreamers, only 17,400 currently benefit from the access provided under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a federal program that is now not available to new applicants. We need to make driver’s licenses accessible to all our aspiring students as the proposed Assembly Bill 4743/Senate Bill 3229 would do.
New Jersey has made tangible progress in supporting our N.J. dreamers with state laws making undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition and state financial help, but the inability to drive remains a significant obstacle preventing many from reaching their full potential.
We have long recognized that young immigrants are as much a part of New Jersey as any other child raised here. They go to our schools, play sports and participate in after-school activities, and volunteer in our communities. Since the announcement of DACA, six and a half years ago, dreamers have made powerful contributions to our nation and they can contribute so much more when they can fully access higher education and career opportunities.
The lack of a driver’s license impacts all aspects of student life: not only class attendance, but participation in student leadership programs and professional development opportunities such as internships that require easy mobility between campus and community. No license could also mean no job to help pay for school or even to help contribute to supporting a family.
The impact on families is also immense. When parents or siblings are undocumented and cannot drive legally, educational and job opportunities are severely restricted for them, as well, multiplying the stresses that families of immigrants already experience as they strive to contribute to our economy and our communities.
None of us can afford to forego the revenue that expanding access to licenses would bring as hundreds of thousands more New Jerseyans pay licensing fees and as these undocumented residents gain better access to higher education and better jobs, increasing their already sizeable $590 million annual contributions to state and local taxes, reflecting similar increases in the 12 other states and Washington D.C. that have already implemented such measures.
This is not the time to slow down on opening up access to education and opportunity to young immigrants. Instead, let's speed up to allow all qualified residents to access a driver’s license regardless of immigration status. These students are our next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, and change-makers who deserve a fair chance to pursue their educational aspirations. When they succeed, we all succeed. Let’s make that a reality in New Jersey by passing legislation to expand access to drivers’ licenses now.
Esder Chong is a Rutgers University-Newark Junior and a DACA recipient. She is also the President of RU Dreamers, an immigrant student group at Rutgers. Nancy Cantor is the Chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark and co-chair of the steering committee of the Presidents Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration.