200 urge driving privileges for undocumented immigrants

Alejandra Ruiz Medina (center) cries during a meeting at St. Joseph's Pro-Cathedral urging support for "driving privilege cards."
Alejandra Ruiz Medina (center) cries during a meeting at St. Joseph's Pro-Cathedral urging support for "driving privilege cards." (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 23, 2014

CAMDEN Guillermo Lopez drives his son to doctor's appointments and himself to work, with fear in the back of his mind.

He lacks a driver's license, because he does not have U.S. citizenship. And, like others in his situation, he is afraid of being pulled over - but he still needs a car.

"Without a car, we cannot work," said Lopez, 30, of Camden. "And without work, we cannot have the money for our families."

Lopez was among more than 200 people who gathered Monday night at St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral to advocate for a proposed bill that would expand driving rights to many undocumented immigrants who cannot obtain a driver's license. The meeting was organized by Camden Churches Organized for People, a faith-based community group.

The bill, introduced this year by Democrats in both houses of the Legislature, would allow individuals who cannot prove they live in the United States lawfully - but can prove they are New Jersey residents - to obtain a "driving privilege card." The card would expire in four years and give the individual the legal ability to drive.

Advocates say having such a card would eliminate the fear undocumented immigrants have of driving to places such as work, school, and grocery stores. Opponents argue the bill would reward people living in the country illegally.

In 2012, New Jersey had approximately 909,000 noncitizens, which includes legal permanent residents, undocumented immigrants, and refugees, according to American Community Survey data.

The state's current identification requirement system - known as "6 Point ID Verification " - started in 2003, amid national security concerns following the 9/11 attacks. It requires noncitizens to provide a verifiable Social Security number and documents such as a foreign passport or refugee travel document, among others, to obtain a driver's license.

Elyse Coffey, a spokeswoman for the state Motor Vehicle Commission, said that obtaining a license was easier before 2003, but that she could not recall details.

The bill to allow driving cards would still require applicants to submit documents, such as lease agreements, that show proof of state residency.

At the meeting Monday night, several speakers discussed their own troubles with lacking a driver's license, such as having to walk a child to school after being pulled over by police.

One speaker asked the crowd in Spanish: "Are you here to fight?"

" ," they responded loudly.

"Well, we're going to fight," the speaker said.

Gabriela Ceron, 32, of Camden, said a driving privilege card would help her. She often drives her autistic 11-year-old son to therapy, sometimes traveling up to a half-hour, she said. Being able to drive legally, she said, "is very important for me."

Zoraida Ossa, a volunteer with the organization that hosted Monday's event, said she believed the cards would eliminate fear and boost the economy.

That's because being able to drive legally would allow people to go more places and feel comfortable about buying a car or insurance, she said.

Others maintained that the cards would be used for more good - such as families supporting each other - than bad.


mboren@phillynews.com

856-779-3829

@borenmc

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