By Keith Mahoney, Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs
On Thursday, May 26, the Massachusetts legislature passed An Act Relative to Work and Family Mobility and sent it to the desk of Governor Charlie Baker. This legislation enables all qualified state residents, regardless of immigration status, to apply for a standard Massachusetts driver’s license. This would maintain the Commonwealth’s full compliance with REAL ID requirements while improving public safety, revenue, and economic opportunity. The vote in the legislature was overwhelmingly supportive, which is important as the Governor chose to cling to his somewhat specious process concerns and vetoed the bill. Leaders of both branches have committed to overriding the veto, and the bill is likely to become law this summer and be implemented by July of 2023.
The Boston Foundation has been proud to be part of the Driving Families Forward Coalition—a coalition that draws support not only from social justice and immigration advocates, but from labor and law enforcement as well—and supports this effort and hopes that the Legislature overrides the Governor’s veto as soon as possible.
After a mid-20th century decline, we are now several decades into a new global wave of immigration, bringing Boston back to its roots as a city of immigrants. The Changing Faces of Greater Boston, a 2019 Boston Indicators report, showed that the percentage of foreign-born residents in Greater Boston in 2017 was at its highest since before the Great Depression and growing; those immigrants comprise more than 90 percent of Greater Boston’s population growth since 1990. Despite paying taxes, immigrants utilize public benefits at significantly lower rates than the general population. They are also associated with lower crime rates and are more likely to start new businesses. They will be the primary source of growth in the working-age population as Baby Boomers retire. Immigration is crucial to our economic success. Public policy must reflect and support this.
A Pew Research report in June 2019 confirmed that around 60,000 undocumented residents have made their homes in Massachusetts during the previous 10 years. Like it or not, their labor is critical to the state's healthy economy. Driver's licenses for the undocumented may just be the best right-now solution—and the most practical way to reduce the number of untrained drivers either careening across highways or nervously cowering behind the wheel instead of keeping their eyes on the road. Licensure fees will be paid to the state through the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and not to some sketchy purveyor of fake out-of-state licenses. Legal drivers have more incentive to sign up for driver ed courses and to purchase vehicles and their required insurance. And of course, a driver's license and its attendant mobility can expand employment opportunities and family incomes.
Over the last two years, we have seen the disparate impact of a public health and economic crisis. And how important reliable transportation is in accessing not just jobs but life-saving health care.
It is time that Massachusetts joins 16 states and the District of Columbia that have enacted laws to allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. These states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington—issue a license if an applicant provides certain documentation, such as a foreign birth certificate, foreign passport, or consular card and evidence of current residency in the state.
Currently, Massachusetts law requires a green card, or other identification from immigration officials, and a Social Security number for non-citizens to apply for a driver’s license. The new bill would require applicants to present two documents, a valid unexpired foreign passport, or Consular Identification document and one of the following:
The Work and Family Mobility Act will enhance public safety for everyone and help us rebuild our economy. I have worked in public policy in the Boston area for years and have been a part of some amazing advocacy movements and achievements, but something feels different this past year. Perhaps it’s the promise that change in local, state, and federal administrations brings or that the public has been awakened to the sounds of injustice. Whatever the reason, now feels like an exquisite opportunity in Massachusetts’ history to make a profound impact for the good of our residents.