Legislation /

Massachusetts Voters Will Decide if Illegal Immigrants Can Be Given Driver's Licenses

Opponents of the law say it could damage the integrity of future elections

The Massachusetts Election Division ruled a referendum question regarding permitting illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses can appear on the November ballot.

Governor Charlie Baker vetoed the matter on May 27 but his decision was overridden by the state legislature, which had passed by the House and Senate. Voters will determine if the law will remain in effect or be overturned.

The policy, known as the Work and Family Mobility Act (S.1557 / H.2418), allows people who are not residing in the United States legally to get a driver’s license by passing a driving test and showing valid proof of identification, date of birth and state residency. 

Some advocates of the policy say it will increase public safety by ensuring qualified drivers are on the road.

The Massachusetts Immigration & Refugee Advocacy Coalition said that current state law requiring proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful residency “can create enormous hardships [for] as many as 250,000 undocumented immigrants” in the state. 

“Driving is essential to mobility in Massachusetts, especially outside Greater Boston. Public transit options are far too limited to enable most residents to get to work, take their children to the doctor, or buy groceries,” said the MIRA Coalition in a statement endorsing the bill. “For those who can’t avoid driving, it greatly increases the risk of family separation, as even a routine traffic stop can lead to arrest and then to ICE detention.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has also backed the law.

“In the Trump era, immigrant families risk being torn apart every time they drive,” wrote ACLU Massachusetts. “But Massachusetts has the opportunity to pass legislation to enable all qualified state residents to apply for a standard driver’s license, regardless of immigrant status.”

Both organizations noted the law is in compliance with REAL ID requirements, referring to standards passed by Congress in 2005 at the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.

According to the Transportation Security Administration, “the Act and implementing regulations establish minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards and prohibit federal agencies, like TSA, from accepting licenses and identification cards from states that do not meet these standards for official purposes, such as getting through the airport security checkpoint to board a plane.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl has opposed the policy and has supported calls for a referendum.

Diehl said the law would “seriously undermine the safety and security of Massachusetts residents and threaten the integrity of our elections” if permitted to go into effect in July of 2023.

“This bill is a bad bill,” the former state lawmaker said, per The Eagle-Tribune. “We must exercise all available options to make sure this bill does not become law.”

Diehl, who was endorsed by President Donald Trump, has also said he thinks the state’s Registry of Motor Vehicles was not prepared to verify illegal immigrants’ identities.

The referendum received almost twice the support it needed to appear on the ballot with more than 71,880 submitted and accepted signatures.

“It just shows how out of touch the Democratic Legislature is with the will of the people,” MassGOP chair Jim Lyons said after the Election Divison ruling on Sept. 9, per the Boston Herald. “We will absolutely win. A poll had us winning 51% to 37%.”

In August, Lyons said, “several years ago Democrats made it so that anyone who obtains a Massachusetts driver’s licenses is automatically registered to vote in Massachusetts.”

“When Republicans offered amendments during negotiations that would have authorized a system where town clerks could work with RMV officials to prevent voter fraud, the Democrats dismissed every single one of them,” he said in a statement. “That single fact reveals what the Democrats truly think this legislation is all about. It’s not about improving the safety of our roads, it’s about disenfranchising voters, and ensuring their stranglehold on power for many years to come.”

Massachusetts is currently one of 17 states and the District of Columbia that have policies that permit an illegal immigrant to obtain a driver’s license.

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