Massachusetts House Passes Bill to Let Immigrants Get Driver’s Licenses
The Massachusetts House has approved a bill that would let immigrants in the country illegally obtain state driver’s licenses.
If passed into law, Massachusetts would join 16 other states and the District of Columbia which already have similar laws.
The legislation, approved on a 120-36 vote, would require individuals provide documentation to obtain a license including proof of their identity, residency in the state and date of birth. The new rules would apply to those who do not have proof they are in the country legally, including those not eligible for a Social Security number.
Those seeking a license must present at least two documents. The first must be either a valid unexpired foreign passport or a valid unexpired consular identification.
A second kind of identification could include an unexpired driver’s license from any U.S. state or territory, a birth certificate, a valid unexpired foreign national identification card or foreign driver’s license, or a marriage certificate issued in Massachusetts.
At least one document must contain a photograph.
The bill also states that immigrants eligible for the driver’s licenses would not be registered to vote as a result.
Under the legislation, the Registry of Motor Vehicles would be required to come up with regulations about what specific kinds of documentation are acceptable.
The licenses would not become available until July 1, 2023.
Immigration activists have long lobbied for the measure, saying it will help improve public safety — including for those who already have driver’s licenses — by requiring that immigrants demonstrate they can properly operate a car and that they have obtained the needed insurance in the event of an accident.
The bill would also make it less likely for immigrants to leave the scene of an accident because they would face less of a threat of deportation with a drivers’ license, backers said.
The bill has won support from many of the state’s sheriffs and district attorneys and the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police.
Critics of the measure have argued that driver’s licenses are a privilege that should not be offered to those not in the country legally.
“The bill may look simple, but the issue, as we know, is complicated,” said Democratic state Rep. William Straus, co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has expressed opposition to similar efforts in the past. An aide to Baker said he supports existing state laws that allow those in the country legally to obtain drivers licenses.
Skeptics and opponents of the bill should look to the experience of the 16 states that have already adopted similar measures, said Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, a Springfield Democrat and son of immigrants.
“All the fears and the arguments and the objections have fallen short,” said Gonzalez.
While some in law enforcement have backed the bill, many have declined to take a position, according to Republican state Rep. Timothy Whelan, of Brewster.
Whelan said the new rules would put too heavy a burden on those issuing licenses.
“Are we demanding too much of our Registry of Motor Vehicle clerks? Are we asking them to become experts in foreign documentation and forgery detection?” Whelan said. “This isn’t a slam dunk in the world of law enforcement by any reasonable measure.”
The bill could also act as a lure to those in the country illegally knowing they could get a driver’s license in Massachusetts, said Republican Rep. Paul Frost, of Auburn.
“It sends the wrong message,” he said.
The 120-36 vote means the bill won the support of more than two-thirds of lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled House _ enough to override a potential veto by Baker.
The bill still must be approved by the Massachusetts Senate, also controlled by Democrats, before heading to Baker. Senate Democrats are also hoping for a two-thirds majority vote.
The formal legislative session ends July 31.
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