Baker should make immigrant licenses part of road-safety agenda

Letting all residents drive legally would help families, make streets safer

IN MASSACHUSETTS, thousands of immigrant families risk being separated every time they get in their cars to drive their children to school. In a state where most people believe that undocumented immigrants are an essential part of our communities and deserve not only a path to citizenship but also our support and compassion, they are treated like criminals just because they need to drive safely to work in order to support their families and pay their taxes.

That’s why on January 23 we were proud to join state Sen. Brendan Crighton, state Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Christine Barber, and our community partners at the TPS Committee, The Welcome Project, REACH Beyond Domestic Violence, The Pioneer Valley Workers Center, and MIRA to announce the filing of the Work and Family Mobility Act. This bill would give all Massachusetts residents the ability to apply for a driver’s license, regardless of immigration status. But this isn’t just about protecting our immigrant communities. It’s about protecting all Massachusetts families by making our roads safer.

Gov. Charlie Baker has stated that improving road safety is a priority for his administration, and is sponsoring a bill requiring hands-free cellphone use while driving. This is a much-needed measure that we welcome and support. Unfortunately, when it comes to immigrant drivers, he is aligning himself with Trump Republicans by being ready to veto a bill that would make us all safer.

According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2014 there were 210,000 “unauthorized” immigrants living in Massachusetts, many who entered our country legally and became undocumented when they overstayed their visas. In 2016, undocumented immigrants contributed $8.8 billion to the Massachusetts economy. Nationally, 43 percent of these immigrants live in households with US citizen children. They live in our communities, they send their children to our schools, they volunteer in our churches and our centers of faith—they are us.

These small business owners, parents, and workers need to drive their children to school and to doctor’s appointments, and having driver’s licenses would allow them to do so safely, legally, and free of fear. Especially outside of urban centers with little or no public transportation available, driving is a necessity.

Imagine what it must feel like to live in fear of being ripped from your family and home every time you get in your car to drive your sick child to the doctor. Now, with thousands of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, recipients in our state under threat of losing their status, the number of people impacted will likely grow.

The Work and Family Mobility Act also ensures that all our state’s drivers pass the same driver’s test, get vision exams and have car insurance. A 2016 Stanford University study found that after California passed its law allowing undocumented immigrants to get licenses, the number of hit-and-run accidents dropped dramatically.

Our bill has the added benefit of potentially bringing more funds into our state’s economy, because a larger portion of our population would pay licensing fees, car insurance, and other associated costs. Police can use their resources more efficiently when all drivers have licenses. Art Venegas, a former Sacramento police chief, put it like this: “Every time we stop someone who has no identification, it takes a lot of manpower to identify that person.”

Baker’s legislation and ours actually have a lot in common. The measure the governor is proposing has been passed in 16 states, while there are laws in the books allowing undocumented immigrants to get licenses in 12 states and the District of Columbia (among them Connecticut and Vermont). They also both have a history of bipartisan support—In Utah, Nevada, and New Mexico, Republican governors signed licensing bills into law.

As a Republican elected in our blue state, Gov. Baker has tried to distance himself from President Trump’s hateful policies, including lending support to TPS and DACA recipients. Now, with immigrants under constant attack by the Trump administration and with no viable pathways for gaining citizenship, Massachusetts should be doing everything we can to protect our immigrants.

Meet the Author

Roxana Rivera

Vice President, 32BJ SEIU
Meet the Author

Natalicia Tracy

Executive Director, Brazilian Worker Center
If Gov. Baker’s support for road safety and all the constituents he was elected to serve is more than just lip service, he should embrace compassionate, common sense measures like the Work and Family Mobility Act. We urge him to reconsider his position on this logical and necessary bill for all Massachusetts families and residents.

Roxana Rivera is vice president of 32BJ SEIU. Natalicia Tracy is executive director of the Brazilian Worker Center.