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05/29/2019 | Protecting Immigrant Communities

Safe Roads Across the Tri-State Area: The Case for Expanding Access to Driver’s Licenses in New York and New Jersey

A growing wave of twelve states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, has passed laws that make driver’s licenses accessible to all eligible residents, regardless of immigration status.

    In states where driver’s licenses are available to all residents, such as neighboring Connecticut, clear and compelling evidence demonstrates these policies ensure safer roads, boost state revenues, provide more economic opportunities for working people, and help keep immigrant families together. Data also show that after states adopt driver’s license policies, road safety for all drivers improves dramatically. New York and New Jersey policymakers are currently considering driver’s license policies that would make an estimated 752,000 undocumented immigrants over the age of 16 in New York and 444,000 undocumented immigrants in New Jersey newly eligible to apply for driver’s licenses. An estimated 265,000 undocumented New Yorkers and 222,000 undocumented New Jersey residents are expected to take advantage of this program in the first three years. According to recent estimates by the Fiscal Policy Institute, New York stands to gain $57 million in annual revenue from car registrations, sales gas and vehicle use taxes, as well as a one-time increase of $26 million from New York residents acquiring driver’s licenses and registrations. New Jersey Policy Perspectives finds that New Jersey state could earn at least $90 million in annual revenue, and about $21 million from permit, title fees, and driver’s license fees for the first three years of implementation. 

    Beyond public safety and economic benefits, this policy will also make undocumented immigrants less vulnerable to detention and deportation stemming from traffic violations. Currently, immigrants without licenses, who drive to work or take their children to school, live in fear that their families will be torn apart if they are stopped while driving without a license. This fear is not unfounded. In recent years, immigrants with traffic violations have been the fastestgrowing group of people facing deportation. Ensuring driver’s licenses are available to qualified drivers, regardless of immigration status, is one of the most effective ways policymakers can reduce the number of people caught in the Trump administration’s deportation dragnet. By adopting these policies, New York and New Jersey can demonstrate a commitment to supporting all residents, regardless of immigration status, while increasing road safety and promoting economic opportunities in the tri-state area.