Massachusetts voters will decide through Question 4 on the Nov. 8 ballot whether a law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses will stay or go. The law, known as the Work and Family Mobility Act, was approved by the state legislature on May 26 but vetoed by Gov. Charlie Baker. Legislators overrode Baker’s veto by votes of 117-36 in the House and 32-8 in the Senate, substantially more than the two-thirds supermajorities needed to override.
The upcoming referendum on whether to strike down the law resulted when a group called Fair and Secure Massachusetts collected more than 70,000 signatures, almost twice the 40,000 signatures needed to certify a referendum petition. The group, funded primarily through donations, was created by Maureen Maloney and Kevin Dube. Its official statement of intent is to “repeal drivers licenses for illegal aliens.” Maloney’s son was killed in 2011 by a drunk driver who did not have legal authorization to live in the U.S., GBH News reported.
Fair and Secure’s petition to overturn the law was submitted in time to have the question appear on the Nov. 8 ballot but after the July deadline for inclusion in the state’s official voter guide. A “yes” vote on Question 4 would uphold the current law allowing driver’s licenses for eligible undocumented immigrants. A “no” would repeal the law.
If the law is upheld, it will go into effect on July 1, 2023. It would establish an avenue for the quarter-million undocumented people living in Massachusetts to obtain a standard driver’s license or permit if they meet requirements such as passing a road test, getting insurance, and showing proof of identity, date of birth, and residency.
The law requires applicants to provide two official documents: a valid foreign passport or consular identification document and a birth certificate, foreign national identification card, valid foreign driver’s license, or a marriage certificate or divorce decree issued by any state or territory of the U.S.
In consultation with the secretary of state’s office, the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) is required under the new law to ensure that those who lack proof of lawful presence in the U.S. will not be automatically registered to vote. The law prohibits the RMV from inquiring about or retaining documents related to applicants’ immigration status.
A Matter of Safety
State Sen. Julian Cyr of Truro says that the law is not about immigration.
“This is actually a public safety measure,” said Cyr. “Repealing this law makes our communities less safe.”
The Cape Cod Coalition for Safe Communities, an advocacy group, argues that the law will ensure that all drivers have gone through the necessary testing to obtain a license.
“There is more of a risk that unlicensed drivers will cause accidents if they do not have a license, because the license means that they have gone through a testing process,” said Mike Hager, a member of the coalition.
Sixteen other states have enacted similar laws. In those states, hit-and-run accidents have decreased. In Connecticut, hit-and-run crashes dropped by 9 percent after the law went into effect in 2015. The state also experienced a decline in the number of drivers found guilty of driving without a license.
Hager said that, in states where the undocumented cannot obtain licenses, being caught driving without a license means possible deportation. “They run away because they don’t want to be caught and possibly be deported,” he said.
According to Hager, repealing the law would drive up insurance rates for all drivers. “The more accidents, the higher the insurance rates,” he said. “So, it affects all people who have cars.”
Supporters of the Work and Family Mobility Act include insurance companies, Attorney General Maura Healey, the majority of the state’s sheriffs and district attorneys, and the Mass. Major City Chiefs of Police.
Opponents of the law say that it will do nothing to make the roads safer.
“Do you want to have a society where we’re giving out licenses to people so they can drive, and we do not know for a fact that they are who they say they are?” said Paul Craney of the Mass. Fiscal Alliance. “This will not make the streets safer.”
Raising the Specter of Fraud
Craney argued that other states with similar laws laid out specific measures to differentiate the licenses of undocumented drivers from those of citizens. Massachusetts did not, he said. “The other states that do this make these other licenses a little bit more distinguishable,” he said, arguing that the Mass. law makes it harder to protect against voter fraud.
In his veto message, Gov. Baker wrote that the RMV “does not have the expertise or ability to verify the validity of many types of documents from other countries.”
Craney believes this is one of the main issues with the law as written. “Asking the RMV to do the job of the Dept. of Homeland Security is just a recipe for disaster,” he said. “They are not capable of distinguishing these foreign documents. They’re not trained to do it.”
Dan Higgins, the Republican candidate for Cape & Islands district attorney, has the same worry. “I do not feel that the RMV is suited to handle foreign documents,” he said.
Higgins said that in his 13 years as a prosecutor he witnessed the difficulties courts have in verifying the identity of those without U.S. documents. “The RMV will not be able to do it if the court and probation department cannot do it,” he said.
Cyr disagrees. “There are robust verification and security processes in place to prevent voter fraud from happening,” he said.
Hager argues that training RMV workers to verify foreign documents would not be difficult. “It is not rocket science,” he said. “Why has it not been a problem in other states? Are our RMV people less capable than the ones in other states?”
Hager says the questions of voter fraud and RMV capabilities are a distraction. “The question is who should be on the road and who shouldn’t be on the road,” he said. “That does not have anything to do with citizenship.”
According to Cyr, it is inevitable that undocumented immigrants will drive whether they have licenses. “People have to drive to make a living, to take care of their families,” he said.