Question 4 asks voters whether they want to keep a new state law that allows Massachusetts residents without immigration status to apply for a driver’s license.
The law requires people to meet requirements for obtaining a license — they must demonstrate their ability to drive by passing a road test, buy insurance, show certain documentation and pay registry fees.
What a yes vote means
A “yes” vote would be a vote in favor of upholding the Work and Family Mobility Act, the law that allows undocumented residents to seek driver’s licenses beginning next summer.
What a no vote means
A “no” vote would be a vote in favor of repealing the law.
What proposes say
Proponents of the law include Berkshire County lawmakers, public safety officials and labor leaders, who say the law makes roads safer by removing a barrier to ensuring all drivers are licensed and insured.
The law passed the legislature by a two-thirds vote and withstood a veto by Gov. Charlie Baker.
Already, 16 other states and the District of Columbia offer the option of driver’s license to immigrants who lack legal status — including the New England states of Rhode Island, Vermont and Connecticut, as well as nearby New York and New Jersey.
Among the lead sponsors of the law, called the Work and Family Mobility Act, was state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield. If upheld by the referendum, the law is due to take effect on July 1, 2023.
In a recent meeting with the editorial board of The Eagle, she said the law requires residents without federal immigration status to produce two accepted forms of documentation in order to seek a standard driver’s license.
People must have either a valid passport or a consular identification as well one of the following: a valid drivers license from another US state or foreign country, a birth certificate, a foreign national identification card or certain US marriage or divorce records.
Applicants must also prove their Massachusetts residency.
Opponents have claimed that allowing undocumented residents to apply for standard driver’s licenses will increase the risk of voter fraud. Farley-Bouvier said that statement is a “lie,” and called it “misinformation.”
Already, she said there are several different categories of people who have driver’s licenses but aren’t eligible to vote, she said. Moreover, she said the law does not allow noncitizens to vote or to register to vote.
“Our own our RMV in Massachusetts issues licenses to people who are eligible to drive and not eligible to vote. The most obvious example of that are 16 and 17 year olds,” she said. “There’s also many hundreds of green card holders each year that get driver’s licenses and other visa holders that get licenses, and the RMV has those protections already in place.”
Supporting the move to allow those without federal status to apply for drivers licenses are the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association and the state’s Major Cities Chiefs of Police Association, which includes Pittsfield.
Berkshire Sheriff Thomas Bowler said it will improve public safety. He data from other states with similar laws on the books show that when immigrant drivers have licenses, hit-and-run crashes and the number of uninsured drivers fall.
“From a law enforcement standpoint, if you have individuals who are undocumented and driving vehicles without a license and they’re stopped by officers, a lot of things are going through an individual’s mind, ‘I’m going to get deported, this could be a bad situation for me,’ and a lot of times they flee. They take off, whether it’s in the car or whether it’s on foot,” he said.
“Having this documentation is really going to de-escalate a lot of the risks for law enforcement personnel.”
Hampshire and Franklin County District Attorney David Sullivan echoed Bowler, saying upholding the law means “you’re just going to have more responsible drivers.”
“Let’s face it, everybody gets the fender benders, everybody has these accidents, small and large,” he said. “Now, they’re gonna stay there and take care of it.”
Immigrant workers without legal status compris a notable portion of the labor force, said Roxana Rivera, executive vice president of the union that represents tens of thousands of workers in New England. They must be able to travel to and from work, and complete necessary tasks like going to the grocery store and doctors office.
She said the measure allowing for driver’s licenses makes a “profound difference for the communities in which our membership lives.”
It’s a membership that includes essential workers whose jobs largely can’t be done remotely, she said, such as cleaners, security officers, custodians and airport workers.
“We’re in biotech, higher ed, airports, commercial office, real estate, really the main economic sectors of the economy here for Massachusetts,” Rivera said.
The law allows qualified drivers without immigration status to receive a standard driver’s license, conferring them the ability to drive legally, Rivera said. They will not receive a REAL ID, which beginning May 3, 2023, will be required to board a plane.
What opponents say
Opponents say the Registry of Motor Vehicles lacks the ability to verify documentation from other countries and would increase “the likelihood that noncitizens will register to vote.” Secretary of State Bill Galvin has refuted that claim, calling it “baseless.”
John Milligan of Fair and Secure Massachusetts, the group seeking to repeal the law, declined a meeting with The Eagle editorial board, citing the board’s past endorsements of conferring the right to seek driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
In a letter to the editor, Maureen Maloney, chair of Fair and Secure Massachusetts, said permitting those without legal status to seek driver’s licenses is “unfair and insulting to the millions of legal immigrants that took the time and effort to go through the proper channels to come here.”