Aug 24, 2022 - Politics

Massachusetts could vote on licenses for undocumented people

Illustration of the Massachusetts State House with lines radiating from it.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Those seeking to repeal a new law letting undocumented residents get driver's licenses in Massachusetts are poised to put the issue up to voters.

Driving the news: A petition by opponents of the law blew past the threshold of signatures needed by today to put a referendum on the matter on the November ballot.

Why it matters: Eighteen states and Washington, D.C. have expanded driver's license access to undocumented people. Massachusetts is among the first to see a repeal effort make headway, says Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute.

  • The last time such a repeal campaign took off was in Oregon in 2019, but it was quashed after the secretary of state deemed the ballot question's wording unconstitutional.
  • A repeal of the law "would be a rarity, especially for what people perceive as a traditionally Democratic state," Chishti told Axios.

Driving the news: The ballot committee Fair and Secure Massachusetts has collected double the 40,120 signatures needed to qualify for a referendum, organizer Wendy Wakeman told Axios in an email yesterday.

  • MassGOP chairperson Jim Lyons said the number of locally certified signatures was closer to 67,000 as of 4pm yesterday, and the number was continuing to climb ahead of today's 5pm deadline.

But, but, but: Those signatures still need to be certified at the local and state level.

  • The petition has to be representative of the entire state, so no more than 25% of the first 40,120 signatures can be from any single county.

The impact: MassBudget projects that 45,000-85,000 potential people could gain licenses over the next three years.

Zoom in: Fair and Secure Massachusetts had already surpassed the signature threshold last week, chairperson Maureen Maloney told Axios at the time.

  • The committee has united opponents of undocumented immigration, including Maloney, whose son was killed in a car crash involving an undocumented immigrant.

What they're saying: "People [who] sign [the petition are] just uncomfortable with people who aren't following the immigration laws being rewarded with a license," Wakeman told Axios.

The other side: "This is a law that's not only for undocumented immigrants, but for all of us that are driving right now," Lenita Reason, executive director of the Brazilian Worker Center in Boston, told Axios.

  • "We want to make sure that everybody that is on the road knows what they're doing, has insurance, has been trained, passed the same tests we did."
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