Driver’s Licenses For Illegal Immigrants? Massachusetts Bill Draws Passion On Both Sides

Printed from:

Some Massachusetts residents want driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.

They made their voices heard on Wednesday afternoon.

In an event that went more than three hours before it featured any difference of opinion, mostly supporters testified in favor of two bills (S.2289/H.3456) before the Joint Committee on Transportation. The title of both bills — “An Act Relative To Work and Family Mobility During and Subsequent to the COVID-19 Emergency” — doesn’t mention either driver’s licenses or illegal immigrants.

The hearing featured a wide array of supporters of the bills, including various Democrats in the Massachusetts legislature, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, Brazilian Worker Center, Rian Immigrant Center (formerly the Irish International Immigrant Center), the Boston Teachers Union, Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, and both illegal immigrants and legal immigrants (who sometimes testified in foreign languages).

Those who testified largely stuck to the same talking points:  that immigrants need driver’s licenses to get to work and doctors’ appointments, that they play a key role in the state’s workforce, that it would prevent some hit-and-run accidents, that it would result in more Bay State residents with car insurance, and that it would give the state some additional revenue because of licensing and registration fees.

State Representative Christine Barber (D-Somerville) was among those who cited economic reasons for giving driver’s licenses to illegals.

“A driver’s license is essential for economic mobility. A driver’s license allows people to get to work, but also allows people to get to the doctor and make sure their health care needs are being met,” Barber said during the hearing Wednesday, June 23.

“The ability to apply for a driver’s license is the number one issue for immigrant families,” Barber added. “This is what I keep hearing from my district every time I talk about this issue. This is a concrete step the Commonwealth could take to improve the daily lives of immigrants.”

State Senator Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) said that he sympathizes with those who fear deportation because they frequently drive illegally because their immigration status prevents them from getting a driver’s license from the state. He also said that Massachusetts cannot wait for Congress to offer protections for people who are in the country illegally.

“In Massachusetts, we pride ourselves in being a leader on so many important national issues, but with respect to this policy before you today, we have fallen behind,” Crighton said. “Many argue that we should let the federal government do its job when it comes to immigration reform. With respect to our Congressional delegation, who’s fighting the good fight, do we really think that Congress is going to find consensus on meaningful immigration reform anytime soon?”

State Senator Adam Gomez (D-Springfield) painted it as a pro-business bill.

“Additional driver’s licenses equal more revenue through application fees,” Gomez said. “These newly-licensed drivers will generate about $6 million in initial fee revenue over the first three years. … Further, newly-licensed drivers are likely to generate an additional $5 million per year in tax revenue once the law is fully rolled out. Not to mention, drivers with licenses are better equipped to obtain car insurance. Once the law is fully implemented, new drivers are likely to spend $62 million on car insurance policies. Allowing undocumented immigrants to get around more easily would allow them to increase their earning potential and employers right now are having trouble recruiting qualified workers amid a time of record low unemployment in the state. Licensing allows businesses to attract workers they cannot currently access.”

Some who opposed the bill agreed with Gomez on one part of his testimony:  that it is a pro-business bill. However, the opposition felt as though it may benefit big business at the expense of the American worker.

That included Steve Kropper, co-chairman of Mass Coalition for Immigration Reform, who said he is a registered Democrat.

“I know that the economic purpose of immigration is to depress wages,” Kropper said. “That’s bad policy. I’m a businessman, so I should like low wages, but first I’m an American — and I want the citizens on the bottom to enjoy the American Dream first. Surely, we shouldn’t have to rely on Charlie Baker, a Republican, and my former junior high classmate, to veto a measure that harms those at the bottom of the economic ladder.”

Granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigration is the wrong approach, he said.

“This legislation is distracting us — not just from the needs of U.S. citizens — but even people here who are here illegally. We have far more important problems to fix,” Kropper said.

GOP state committee member Debby Dugan of Watertown expressed similar concerns, and she also said that such a bill is enacted, it would lead to more illegal immigration. 

“So many people who have testified today other than the last two, their only concern was for the people who have come into our country without permission — not for American citizens,” Dugan said. “Those people who have elected you to protect them, not just physically protect them in the communities they live in — but to protect their jobs, their livelihood, their wages, to give them an opportunity to work hard to provide for their families, to save for a rainy day, opportunities for their children to have summer jobs, opportunities for their 18-year-olds high school graduates to begin careers — lifelong careers. Unfortunately, Massachusetts is a magnet for undocumented people. Driver’s licenses for these people will only serve to encourage more undocumented people to move to Massachusetts.”

Kathy Lynch, a Republican state committee member from Westford, said she worries that the bill could result in fraud.

“This bill is a free ticket to government benefits,” Lynch said. “The bill thwarts the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement in their efforts for investigations into illegal immigration and crime.”

It would most likely require a two-thirds majority in each chamber of the Massachusetts Legislature for this bill to pass. That’s because the state’s Republican governor, Charlie Baker, opposes giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.

“I don’t support driver’s licenses for people who are undocumented,” Baker said during a 2014 GBH debate. “And the main reason for that is no one’s ever been able to explain to me how you can actually document and verify someone who is undocumented.”


New to NewBostonPost?  Conservative media is hard to find in Massachusetts.  But you’ve found it.  Now dip your toe in the water for two bucks — $2 for two months.  And join the real revolution.