Barchi pushes lawmakers on driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants

By Carly Sitrin
09/25/2019 05:03 AM EDT POLITICO NJ

Rutgers University President Robert Barchi is stepping down at the end of the current academic year, but before he goes, he wants New Jersey lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants access to state drivers licenses.

POLITICO has obtained letters Barchi sent earlier this month to state Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin expressing Rutgers' support for the measure, NJ S3229 (18R) / NJ A4743 (18R). 

"This bill is of particular interest and importance to the University and hundreds of students at Rutgers who have [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] protections. Many of these students commute to our campuses in Newark, Camden, Piscataway and New Brunswick," Barchi wrote. "Simply put, driver's licenses are essential to their pursuit of a college degree."

Barchi concludes his letters by urging the Senate and Assembly leadership to hold hearings and schedule a vote on the bill "as soon as possible."

A state Office of Legislative Services report said that during the fall 2017 semester Rutgers indicated there were 471 undocumented students attending its three campuses.

The letters represent the second time in less than a week that Barchi has challenged state lawmakers. On Friday, during his final address to the Rutgers University Senate, Barchi called out the Legislature, saying he thinks Rutgers’ title as the "State University" might need to be rethought if lawmakers don't increase state funding.

"Are we a state university anymore when the state support for Rutgers has gone from 90 percent to less than 20 percent?" Barchi asked. "At some point you cross the line into being a state affiliated university rather than a state university." 

Though Barchi, 72, is stepping down from his post as Rutgers’ 20th president at the end of this academic year, he plans to return to the faculty as a professor next year. Several Rutgers student leaders and DACA recipients sent their own letter to state lawmakers earlier this month as well urging movement on the drivers license bill. In addition, Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Rutgers  University-Newark, and Esder Chong, a Rutgers student and DACA recipient, co-wrote their own op-ed in favor of the measure.

The bill was introduced in the Legislature in December, but has not moved out of committee in either house despite having nine sponsors in the Senate and 30 sponsors in the Assembly. It's become a source of tension between legislative leadership and Gov. Phil Murphy, who has publicly supported the measure.