Mass. maintains policy against granting licenses to illegals

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BOSTON – On Tuesday, July 26, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law a legislative amendment ensuring that illegal immigrants will not be able to receive a driver’s license in the Bay State.

Massachusetts law does not currently allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Last month, lawmakers attached a policy rider to the state budget intended to bring the state into compliance with new federal secure identification standards, raising concerns that the legislature had created a loophole for illegal immigrants to obtain licenses that were previously off-limits to them.

Massachusetts has until October to meet federal identification standards. The Real ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005 in an effort to thwart terrorism, requires states to issue secure forms of identification, potentially replacing driver’s licenses.

Earlier this year, the Massachusetts legislature approved a new two-tier system for obtaining licenses. Under this system, those who provide extra documentation — including photo identification and proof of date of birth, social security number, address and lawful status in the U.S. – are eligible to obtain a Real ID. Those who choose not to supply the additional documentation can apply for a regular state license which is not valid for federal purposes, including airport security. Fourteen states have adopted similar two-tiered approaches.

Following several weeks of protests and debates, Baker added clarifying language that states, “No license of any type may be issued to any person who does not have lawful presence in the United States.”

Baker described his amendment as a simple clarification of current law, noting that it is “a bipartisan initiative that makes it possible for Massachusetts to comply with federal standards associated with ensuring that driver’s licenses in Massachusetts are appropriately awarded to people who have lawful presence here.”

The Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, which advocates licenses for undocumented immigrants, criticized the bill for putting undue burden on those who may not be able to procure the required documents to prove their legal status. But Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) praised the bill’s phrasing, saying that the amended language provides clarity for the process and “protects the integrity” of citizens’ important identification documents.