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Driver’s Licenses for Illegal Immigrants A ‘Public Health’ Priority, Advocates Say

May 21, 2020

Supporters of allowing illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses in Massachusetts are reframing the proposal as a public health priority because of the coronavirus emergency.

U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Dorchester) and Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan are attempting to pressure state legislators to pass a bill that would offer a standard driver’s license for people here illegally, according to State House News Service.

In February the Joint Committee on Transportation of the Massachusetts Legislature voted 14-4 to recommend such a bill, with all four no votes coming from Republicans. One of the committee’s co-chairmen initially refused to release a roll call of the vote, but the other committee co-chairman released it the following week, according to State House News Service. Both co-chairmen are Democrats.

Now, supporters of the bill are arguing that illegal immigrants are needed for the state’s economy to recover and that they should not have to use the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority or other public transportation during the coronavirus emergency.

“This bill – to license all drivers, regardless of immigration status – needs to be an essential piece of our public health and economic recovery policy. Without driver’s licenses, many of our essential workers have to crowd onto buses or subway cars to get to work. This puts their lives and our community’s health at risk,” said Natalicia Tracy, executive director of the Brazilian Workers Center, in a written statement Thursday, May 21.

Democratic legislative leaders have not made similar bills a priority in recent years. Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, opposes it.

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