Milford split on driver’s licenses

Like gubernatorial candidates, residents differ on giving undocumented immigrants licenses

Milford Police Chief Thomas O’Loughlin has voiced support for issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, but CommonWealth magazine’s Bellwether project indicates residents of his own town are split on the issue.

O’Loughlin earlier this year encouraged state lawmakers to pass legislation authorizing licenses for undocumented immigrants. He and some other police chiefs say the licenses would improve public safety, but a bill authorizing the licenses was quashed on Beacon Hill, a victim of pushback from those who see licenses as sanctioning illegal immigration.

Christine Crean of Milford said she supports O’Loughlin’s initiative for two reasons. “First, it would provide some safety by giving these licenses out after some driver education,” she said. “Secondly, this would be a way for this population to be identified in order to have some idea of who is in our community. There has been concern about some of the undocumented residents who have not had immunizations or are possibly TB carriers. This may be a way to identify those who might need some care in order that the general population could be protected.”

Raymond Fellows, another Milford resident, said he thinks issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants is a bad idea. “If you can’t take the responsibility to obey the law and become a US citizen, what do the rules of the road mean to you?” he asked. “You can’t be here illegally and then be allowed to legally drive a car. That makes no sense whatsoever.”

The comments were gathered as part of CommonWealth’s Bellwether project, an online forum at www.localocracy.org where Milford residents can vote on and discuss state and local issues. The goal is to go beyond horse-race polls to learn what issues are important to voters and what they feel about them. Milford was selected because it is representative economically of the state as a whole and because, politically, it has voted for the winning candidate for governor every election since 1990.

The opinions expressed on the localocracy website don’t represent a scientific sampling of the town’s population. The vote on O’Loughlin’s proposal was 12 Milford residents opposed and six in favor.

Immigration is a hot-button issue in Milford, a town of about 27,000 people located  in the southeastern corner of Worcester County. No reliable data exists on how many illegal immigrants live in Milford, but town officials say a significant number of undocumented Brazilians and Eduadorans reside there.

In the governor’s race, Republican Charlie Baker and independent Tim Cahill oppose giving licenses to undocumented immigrants, while Gov. Deval Patrick and Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein favor issuing the licenses.

Patrick spokeswoman Alex Goldstein says the governor has supported licenses for undocumented immigrants since 2006, but that federal rules prohibit states from acting unilaterally on the issue.

A Stein spokesman said undocumented immigrants are not going anywhere so policies should be crafted to deal with them. “She believes the more these people can be integrated into the fabric of society the better off we’ll all be,” said John Andrews, chairman of Stein’s campaign committee.

Milford resident William Ferguson’s views are in line with those of Patrick and Stein. “I saw an accident one day and the driver of the car could not speak English, did not have a license, and did not have insurance. He had been in the country over five years. The police had to drive him home,” said Ferguson on Localocracy.com. “These folks are here. Incorporate them as soon as possible, but all tests must be in English.”

On his campaign website, Baker says he differs with the governor on giving undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses, in-state tuition, and access to state benefits. “I don’t support these policies and I would require positive affirmation of residency to ensure that state services are provided only to legal residents,” he says.

Cahill holds a similar position. He says driver’s licenses, as well as professional, firearm, hunting, and retail licenses, should only be issued to those with proof of lawful immigration status or citizenship.

Milford resident Joann Barr agrees. “If they are not in this country legally, then why are they entitled to all that we are entitled to?” she asked on Localocracy.org.

O’Loughlin, the Milford police chief, did not respond to repeated calls made to his office over the last week by CommonWealth. Earlier this year, he and a handful of other municipal police chiefs said they supported issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants.  O’Loughlin told The Boston Globe that the country’s immigration policies are dysfunctional. Undocumented immigrants, he said, pay taxes, buy homes, and enroll children in public schools. They can also buy, register, and insure a vehicle, but legally they can’t drive it without a license.

Milford District Court Clerk-Magistrate Thomas Carrigan said he had some interns review every fifth case between 2001 and 2007 involving a driver charged with operating without a license. Initially, he said, there seemed to be a correlation between drivers operating without a license and drivers without Social Security numbers, an indicator of being undocumented. But he subsequently concluded that there was no statistical correlation between the two because it wasn’t always clear whether every driver was being asked by the police for their Social Security number.

Anecdotally, Carrigan said, a lot of police reports reviewed by his office indicate many drivers pulled over for violations don’t have licenses. Instead, the drivers produce Brazilian or Ecuadoran passports. He said undocumented immigrants also appear at the court frequently to obtain restraining orders and file small claims complaints, often about not being paid for work they do.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

“A fair number of these illegal immigrants are being taken advantage of,” he said.

Asked whether he reports undocumented immigrants to federal immigration authorities, Carrigan said: “It’s not my job. Whether or not it’s the job of the police, you’d have to ask them.”