Immigrant “Dreamers” who grew up in New Jersey but are nott legal residents would be eligible to get professional and occupational licenses under a bill advanced Thursday by Senate committee members of both parties.
This state Legislature proposal would permit certain immigrants living in the state eligible to apply for and obtain those licenses. Supporters of this movement believe that it would contribute to the economic development of the state and it also could help to bring immigrants out of the shadows.
The bill was amended to, in the words of a Senate Commerce Committee aide, apply not only to unauthorized immigrants but any eligible immigrant looking for a professional or occupational license in the state.
The committee was urged to pass a bill that would go beyond immigrants eligible for protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Erika Martinez, a Rutgers University student and youth leader for Make the Road New Jersey said they are asking the commettee a more inclusive approach.
“While this current legislation is a first step, we urge the committee to consider an occupational licenses bill that includes both DACA recipients and immigrants with work authorization as well as immigrants who do not have work authorization and immigrants who have lost work authorization,” she stated.
“This legislation does not provide work authorization. This is the job of the federal government. We are advocating for access to professional licenses to all New Jersey residents who have received and passed all required training. And we wouldn’t be the first,” Martinez said, referring to 11 states that provide unauthorized immigrants access to professional licenses.
“New Jersey can and should be the next,” she said. “In fact, we should be leading the charge,” she added.
The introduced bill makes immigrants available for New Jersey professional and occupational licenses if they have an Employment Authorization Document Card (Form I-766) from the federal Department of Homeland Security and documentation from a federal agency showing that they are lawfully admitted for permanent or temporary residence in the United States.
Martinez said that just 16,500 of the more than 100,000 people in New Jersey who could be eligible under DACA are currently covered by the program, which was closed in 2017 and could be terminated, depending how the Supreme Court rules in a case heard in November.
This is one of the more difficult votes I think I’ve had to make in my time in the Legislature,” said state Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Bergen. “Because I understand from hearing many that these DACA kids are Americans. They’ve lived in America. That’s what they know. But our government, our federal government, has unfortunately left them worse off than they should have been.”
The Senate Commerce Committee passed the measure unanimously on Thursday.
Undocumented young immigrants are the strongest group leading the fight for integral immigration reform. They are children and young people who entered the United States in an irregular manner accompanying their parents, in most cases, and who without knowing their immigration status have grown up and lived in this country they consider their home.