Jun 8, 2022 - Politics

Mass. poised to let undocumented immigrants get driver's licenses

People walk in front of the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Street.

The Massachusetts House on Wednesday voted to override the governor's veto of the driver's license bill. Photo: Steph Solis/Axios

Massachusetts is on track to become the 17th state to allow immigrants without legal status to obtain state-issued driver's licenses — nearly two decades after the proposal first emerged.

Driving the news: The Democratic-controlled House successfully overrode Republican Gov. Charlie Baker's veto of the bill in a 119-36 vote on Wednesday, securing a two-thirds or veto-proof majority.

  • The Senate plans to follow suit.

Why it matters: Massachusetts is home to more than 200,000 immigrants without legal status, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The state is poised to extend driving privileges to an estimated 45,000-85,000 potential drivers over the next three years, according to MassBudget.

Between the lines: The proposal has stirred contentious debate over what rights and privileges undocumented immigrants should have, and whether the Registry of Motor Vehicles has the capacity to properly vet someone's identity.

  • It has also spurred unsubstantiated claims about potential voter fraud, including from Baker as he vetoed the bill.

The big picture: House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy) said in an interview with Axios that support for the driver's license bill reflects a change in attitudes, however incremental.

  • "I firmly believe that issues are like plants. They need to be exposed to sunlight, and they need time to germinate," Mariano said.

Flashback: For years, similar proposals languished in the Legislature, as top Democrats didn't believe they had the votes to get the legislation passed.

Fast forward: Mariano attributes the recent movement on the bill to the Driving Families Forward Coalition, which was willing to rework the bill with legislators by narrowing the types of identification and residency documents applicants can use to obtain a license.

  • The coalition also convinced police chiefs, prosecutors and sheriffs across the state to back the bill as a public safety measure.

The other side: Baker told reporters at a news conference this week, "I don't see this the same way as the House or the Senate here. That's democracy."

  • His veto letter last month highlights several concerns with extending driving privileges, echoing claims that opponents have made on Beacon Hill in previous years.
  • That includes concerns about the Registry of Motor Vehicle's lack of experience reviewing foreign documents, though the agency uses consular IDs and foreign passports to verify the identity of DACA recipients, lawful permanent residents and other non-citizens applying for a driver's license.

What's next: The bill is expected to become law once the Senate votes and, barring any major changes, take effect in 2023.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to note that Massachusetts would be the 17th state, not the 18th, to let undocumented immigrants get driver's licenses.


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