Lawmaker pushes 'driver privilege card' bill
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Trenton Bureau ... xml&coll=9

TRENTON -- When he entered the United States illegally from his native Mexico in 1979, Manuel Guzman said he learned right away that people need to drive in this country.

Legally or not.

During a Statehouse demonstration Monday, Glassboro resident Guzman, 43, and others touted a petition with 1,000 signatures -- some legal immigrants, some not, they said -- calling for New Jersey to issue so-called driver privilege cards.

"It is important, because a lot of our members, we are people (who have) no papers in this country. Most are driving. They have to drive," Guzman, of the farm workers' group CATA, said in halting English. "People are driving. These people are here now. And they need (to be) driving."

Guzman said he spent seven years in the country illicitly until he was granted residency in a 1986 amnesty period.

Legislation pending in the state capital would allow the Motor Vehicles Commission to issue a one-year "driver privilege" card to those who cannot produce the required six-point identification package for a New Jersey license.

Nationwide, the states of Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin already issue similar permits.

Many of the workers that CATA represents are precisely those that supporters point to in justifying the bill: Migrant farm workers who drive through long stretches of rural country to find work.

The issue came to light last November when Lolita Miller, 80, of Bridgeton, died after an illegal immigrant without a driver's license struck a mini-van as she was exiting the vehicle on Bank Street.

"Many ... are willing to accept this status, even though it denotes second class citizenship, because of the need to continue driving," said sponsor Assemblyman Joseph Vas, D-Perth Amboy.

But the plan appeared unlikely to find any traction in the state Senate, where it was panned by both Democrats and Republicans.

"New Jersey citizens who have been driving in this state for years, if not decades, now have to jump through hoops just to renew their driver's licenses," said Sen. Robert Singer, R-Burlington. "Under this legislation, those who are in the country illegally will not have to adhere to these conditions, making the bill patently unfair."

Sen. Stephen Sweeney, D-3 of West Deptford, said he "has problems" with the legislation. Opening the door for drivers to obtain a legal identification does not ensure that ancillary items such as insurance and registration will be cleared up.

"We have serious problems in South Jersey ... because Pennsylvania is giving such access to illegal drivers," the Democrat said, adding he sees no support building in the Senate Democratic majority for the measure.

"It's a much broader based problem than this," Sweeney added. "They still would not follow the laws."

In the lower House, Assemblyman Douglas Fisher, D-3 of Bridgeton -- who initially sponsored the bill -- withdrew his support. He explained that he still supports the concept of the cards, but the Vas bill supplants MVC and those who play by the rules in holding illegals to a less rigorous process of identification.

"Obviously, there is an enormous amount of frustration," said Fisher. "What happens is that hundreds of thousands of residents who are undocumented are in vehicles -- unregistered, uninsured, and we don't know who they are."

Grabbing a rein on the flow of illegal aliens north from Mexico has become a hot-button federal issue.

In the U.S. Senate, a group of GOP lawmakers and Democrats want to construct a 1,900-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border running from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Other suggested reforms would speed up immigration red tape.

President George W. Bush has called for a mix of reforms and a guest worker program which would allow those already in the U.S. to stay for up to three years before returning to their home countries.

© 2006 Today's Sunbeam
© 2006 All Rights Reserved.