New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to sign legislation passed in the State Assembly Thursday that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain professional and occupational licenses in the state, raising concerns about the supply of jobs during a pandemic.
Approved by the State Assembly, the bill would immediately take effect if signed by Murphy. The State Senate passed the bill last week. It would maintain all other requirements for licenses but allow immigrants to obtain them regardless of their status, NorthJersey.com reported.
Alyana Alfaro, a spokesperson for Murphy, told the outlet the governor "believes that immigrants are a critical part of the fabric of life in New Jersey, and that they should not face unnecessary barriers as they seek to participate in our society and economy."
The bill would presumably open the floodgates for illegal immigrants to enter into a variety of professions -- including as accountants, cosmetologists and pharmacists.
It came at a time when Americans faced heightened unemployment and economic turmoil due to coronavirus-related restrictions. The issue flared when two New Jersey gym owners defied authorities by kicking down the barricade that blocked the entrance to their business. The incident, gym owner Ian Smith said, showed the "lengths we have to go to just to make a living for our families."
The bill could have wideranging implications for the state's economy. In June, New Jersey counties already saw unemployment rates ranging from around 12 percent up to 34.3 percent in Atlantic City.
In a statement to Fox News, Dale Wilcox, executive director and general counsel at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, said: "The last thing American workers need is more competition from illegal aliens."
The Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR), which supports greater restrictions, also argued that the proposal would cost American jobs.
"Allowing those in the country illegally to get occupational or professional licenses takes jobs away from American citizens and legal immigrants," said FAIR State and Local Engagement Director Shari Randall.
"Already there are more than 1.3 million unemployed individuals in New Jersey who are suffering as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns. Providing occupational or professional licenses to those in the country illegally incentivizes more illegal immigration. With high unemployment, the legislative focus should have been targeted to unemployed citizens and legal immigrants in New Jersey who desperately need to go back to work, instead of encouraging more illegal immigration."
She added that the bill flouts federal law. "Under 8 U.S.C. § 1621 illegal aliens are precluded from receiving commercial and professional licenses. Illegal aliens have no legal right to remain in the United States and are prohibited from being employed," she said.
But Assemblyman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic, reportedly said it would help address labor shortages among essential workers. “Our immigrant community has been indispensable throughout this crisis," Schaer reportedly said. "By lifting this obstacle we can utilize the abilities of every single resident."
The bill touches on a long-standing issue surrounding Democratic states taking steps that make it easier for illegal immigrants to participate in the economy. Like other states, New Jersey approved a bill that allowed illegal immigrants to obtain drivers' licenses.