Massachusetts Poised to Grant Driver’s Licenses to Undocumented Immigrants
Massachusetts is on its way to joining 16 other states that grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
On February 16, 2022, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed The Work and Family Mobility Act by an overwhelming majority vote of 120 to 36. The bill is expected to pass the Massachusetts Senate. It is not clear whether Governor Charlie Baker will sign the bill, but the bill may be protected by a veto-proof majority. If passed, the bill would go into effect on July 1, 2023, and could help an estimated 78,000 people in Massachusetts apply for a standard Massachusetts driver’s license, regardless of immigrant status, while maintaining full compliance with federal REAL ID requirements.
Those applying for driver’s licenses under the Act would need to provide proof of identity, date of birth, and Massachusetts state residency. This proof could include an unexpired foreign passport, a birth certificate, a valid foreign driver’s license, or a marriage certificate issued in Massachusetts.
The bill is supported by immigration advocacy groups as access to a driver’s license will serve to ease the everyday challenges faced by undocumented immigrants in the United States – including enabling access to grocery stores, seeking employment opportunities, transporting children and family members to school, accessing healthcare, and so on. Law enforcement is also supportive of the bill because properly trained, licensed drivers are safer on the road, leading to fewer accidents, lower insurance deductibles, and more responsible drivers. In addition, other states have found that these types of laws result in a decrease in hit-and-run accidents, because they eliminate undocumented immigrants’ fear of being identified and arrested for driving without a license.
With respect to the ability to vote, the bill says, “people without legal immigration status will not be registered to vote as a result of getting a driver’s license.” This has led to more support for the bill and prevents immigrants from falling into the trap of mistakenly registering to vote.
While some fear that issuance of these driver’s licenses will create a database that could be used to report undocumented workers, as in the case of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) registrations, proponents point out that the bill contains language to prevent that sort of misuse.