Should Undocumented Immigrants Be Allowed to Get a Driver’s License?
Should Undocumented Immigrants Be Allowed to Get a Driver’s License?
The question is among four hotly debated ones on the Massachusetts ballot this November
Perhaps the most politically combustible of four questions on the Massachusetts November ballot seeks to repeal a law that’s fewer than five months old: allowing undocumented immigrants to get a driver’s license.
Governor Charlie Baker, a moderate Republican, sided with the immigrant-wary wing of his party and vetoed the bill, but then lawmakers overrode him, and so the law has remained in place. A group led by the mother of a man killed by an undocumented driver mobilized to put a repeal of the law on the ballot. A “yes” vote supports retaining the law and allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license; a “no” vote supports repeal and prevents them from getting a license.
The other three questions: one would impose a millionaire’s tax, another would hike the number of beer and wine licenses permitted to individual retailers, and the third would require dental insurance plans to spend a minimum percentage of premiums on care.
Early in-person voting opened last week ahead of the November 8 Election Day and runs until November 4. Voting by mail also is underway. The mandatory written request for a mail-in ballot must arrive at your local election office by 5 pm on November 1. Apply for a mail-in ballot online here.
As it stands, the driver’s license law, to take effect next year, limits undocumented immigrants to standard licenses, not REAL ID ones. (Next May is the application deadline for REAL ID licenses, which will be required for domestic flights and entry into certain federal facilities.) Undocumented applicants will have to show at least two official forms of ID for a driver’s license and prove that they live in Massachusetts.
An estimated 45,000 to 50,000 people could get licenses in the next three years under the law. Massachusetts is one of the first states to put repeal of the law to a vote.
In his veto message, Baker wrote, “I cannot sign this legislation because it requires the Registry of Motor Vehicles [RMV] to issue state credentials to people without the ability to verify their identity. The Registry does not have the expertise or ability to verify the validity of many types of documents from other countries.” Baker also cited the potential for undocumented people to use licenses to register to vote illegally in elections.
The governor’s Registry concern “is a frivolous argument,” says Sarah Sherman-Stokes, a School of Law clinical associate professor of law and associate director of its Immigrants’ Rights & Human Trafficking Clinic.
“The RMV already examines people’s immigration and identification documents to confirm whether they are eligible under current law,” Sherman-Stokes says. “If Governor Baker doesn’t have confidence in RMV employees, then he should pay to increase their training and hire additional workers. Denying members of our community the right to live and work in the commonwealth is not the answer.”
Similarly, she calls illegal voting worries “an argument with no basis that appeals to a particular group of voters.” There’s no evidence from jurisdictions that give undocumented immigrants licenses—16 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia—that the policy increases voter fraud, she says. And at any rate, “alleged voter fraud by noncitizens has been dramatically overblown and unfounded.”
After Connecticut and California authorized licenses for undocumented people, hit-and-runs fell in both states. In Connecticut, the drop was especially large in communities with higher percentages of licenses that could be used for driving only (such as those possessed by undocumented drivers).
“Utah and New Mexico have seen uninsured driving drop 80 and 60 percent, respectively,” since licensing undocumented drivers, Sherman-Stokes says. “This bill is also endorsed by all 42 police chiefs in the Massachusetts Major Cities Chief of Police Association, as well as more than 60 law enforcement officials across the state.” Passage would help undocumented workers, she adds: “For people to be able to feed their families, pay their rent, get their children to school and to doctor’s appointments safely, we need them to be licensed. Undocumented members of our community don’t want to drive without a license—but often, they have no choice.”
The remaining ballot questions would:
- Impose a 4 percent income tax, beyond the state’s current 5 percent flat-rate tax, on incomes above $1 million, constitutionally earmarking the money raised for education and transportation.
Supporters, including unions and several activist groups, say the pandemic and the failures of the MBTA transit system underscore the need to raise money to invest in these areas, especially to benefit communities of color. They say voters could hold legislators accountable for spending the revenue as intended, and that the current state surplus isn’t enough to guarantee the years of investment that schools and transit need.
Several business groups oppose the tax, saying it would hit the (small) number of “one-time” millionaires who temporarily profit from the sale of their home or business; could drive millionaires from the state or crimp their job creation and business investments; that lawmakers can’t be trusted to put the revenue towards increased education and transportation spending; and that the federal deductibility of state taxes would allow millionaires to deduct the tax increase from their federal tax obligation, a regressive break.
- Increase the number of liquor licenses that food retailing chains, such as supermarkets and convenience stores, could have to sell beer and wine for off-premises consumption. The number is now 9—a number that impedes every store in many chains from selling beer and wine—but would rise to 18 by 2031; however, only 7 of those could be full licenses to sell beer, wine, and liquor. The measure also would ban in-store automated and self-checkout sales of alcohol.
The ballot question follows a long tussle between package stores and food stores. The former support the measure as a fair compromise with food stores that seek more beer and wine licenses. But supermarket and convenience store opponents say the compromise isn’t enough and that caps on liquor licenses give an unfair edge to package stores. The latter fear for their survival if corporate chains don’t face some cap.
A Tufts University report anticipates negligible effects from passage on alcohol consumption and consumer convenience: the changes would not affect restaurants and bars and would leave licensing in the hands of local authorities.
- Require dental insurance plans to spend at least 83 percent of their premium revenue on medical care, rather than administration, taxes, and revenue. (There is no mandatory minimum currently.) If an insurer’s “medical loss ratio,” the portion of its premium revenue spent on care, fell below 83 percent, it would have to send rebates to its subscribers.
Supporters, including groups representing dentists and other dental care professionals, say the law would provide better coverage to patients by removing an incentive to deny claims and to overpay their officials with money from excess premiums. Opponents, including dental and other insurers, say the law would force insurers to raise premiums to cover the required spending while still covering administrative costs. This could spur people to drop dental coverage or limit their dental visits, they warn.
Another Tufts analysis concludes that passage likely would have little impact on consumer costs and that most insurers, save for “smaller, less efficient” ones, could live with the 83 percent requirement.
In Brookline, the number of retailer marijuana stores is a percentage of the number of liquor stores. If the number of liquor licenses increases so does the number of marijuana retail stores. This is an important consequence not mentioned in the article.
“A group led by the mother of a man killed by an undocumented driver mobilized to put a repeal of the law on the ballot.” Without coming off as insensitive to this woman’s grief, she is misguided here. One cannot blame a single instance on a group of people and try to punish them for it. Many undocumented people will drive despite not having a license. Many others will also not get licenses for fear of being outed to ICE. I sincerely hope this woman finds a good therapist.
The article doesn’t mention the details of that situation. Her son was hit and then dragged to his death by a driver who chose not to stop because he didn’t want to risk deportation. Had the driver been documented, I assume he would have stopped and her son might still be alive. It’s more complicated than a bad luck hit and run.
They should not. When I came to this country legally, I had to spend tons of money and follow due process to obtain a drive license. We allowing this is just sending the message the is legal to do illegal things and instead to be punished you will be awarded.
I never thought I could see a American becoming a third world country but is this what I am seeing.
Orquidia, what does the money have to do with it? Documented or undocumented, the person will still be paying for receiving this service. At the end of the day, what is free in this world? Nothing.
What illegal “things” are these people doing? Is looking for a future that is better for them and their family illegal? I am so happy that you came to this country legally, but many don’t have the opportunity to do so, so they have to risk their lives to get there and hope that they will get there. Many undocumented immigrants hope for an opportunity like yours regardless of the money.
It is really disappointing to see comments like these, where words instead of uplifting, bring others down.
“We allowing this is just sending the message the is legal to do illegal things and instead to be punished you will be awarded.” No, it’s not. The law is being tweaked in order to ASSIST people in not breaking it. The easier you make it for people to not break a law, the less likely they are to do. There are a variety of criminalized things that should not be. Merely making something illegal does not inherently make it bad. Moreover, punishing people less helpful than assisting them. I’m sorry, but this statement comes off incoherent and paranoid and illogical. The cause does not necessarily equal the effect you are proposing.
“I never thought I could see a American becoming a third world country but is this what I am seeing.” Again, this makes no sense. Allowing more people to have access to a driver license does not equate to suddenly the US is a third world country. GDP does not go down because people have access to licenses. Additionally, I don’t think it’s a good look to bash Third World countries when the people there have been the victims of years of exploitation, extraction, and corruption fueled by capitalism and colonialism. Please, think things through a little more before jumping to conclusions.
No. Full stop.