Today we’re finalizing legislation that will allow qualified state residents to apply for a standard driver’s license, regardless of immigration status. If approved, Massachusetts will become the 17th state (plus D.C.) to do so. Applicants will be required to show proof of identification, date of birth, and state residency, including a valid passport or consular identification card. They’d also have to meet all the other eligibility requirements like passing a road test, eye test, and paying the fees, etc.
A number of folks have asked questions about the bill and so I thought it would be helpful to address some common ones and share why I think it’s the right time to take this step. We know there are about ~200,000 undocumented residents living in Massachusetts right now and in my view we’re all better off if these folks are tested, insured and licensed when they are driving on our roads.
It's hard to get to work without being able to drive a car, especially outside the city where there is less public transportation. And if someone is in a fender bender or pulled over, it’s important that they have valid, standardized identification. That’s one of the reasons that nearly every major law enforcement association in the state is behind this change. (See post below.) A few additional points: • Nothing changes with REAL ID requirements. Massachusetts remains in full compliance with this federal standard. • The RMV is well-equipped to handle this change as they already deal with a wide range of driver’s license and identification card applicants, including non-citizens with varying immigration statuses and documentation and teenage drivers who aren’t at voting age. • Non-citizens and other ineligible to vote have been able to apply for state drivers licenses for decades. This includes green card holders, refugees, DACA recipients, teenagers, etc. Nothing in the bill changes voting eligibility requirements and there are specific protections to ensure that applicants who do not provide proof of lawful presence are not made eligible for the automatic voter registration program.
• This is not a partisan issue. A number “red states” already allow undocumented residents to apply for a state driver’s license. The conservative Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby had a good take on this issue recently. “A driver’s license doesn’t promote anything except public safety and better traffic enforcement.” https://www.bostonglobe.com/.../what-does-immigration.../ • States that currently allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses: Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut, Maryland, New Mexico, Colorado, Delaware, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Hawaii and California.
• A 2017 Stanford University study found that a similar law implemented in California led to improved traffic safety by reducing the number of hit and run accidents.
• Peer-reviewed studies on the impact of granting undocumented immigrants access to driving licenses show that such policies increased the supply of female workers in the labor market and showed no negative impact of the employment of other groups of native-born frontline workers. I know that many folks have strong feelings about federal immigration policy and I respect those who have good faith disagreements. Like many, I’d like to see some comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level.
Here in Massachusetts, I believe this compromise bill is a sensible public safety measure that will result in fewer uninsured and unlicensed motorists on our roads. Thank you to everyone who has shared your feedback and comments.