Getting Answers: Question 4 - driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants
SPRINGFIELD, MA. (WGGB/WSHM) - A ballot referendum could topple or preserve a controversial Massachusetts law that allows immigrants without legal status to apply for Massachusetts Driver’s Licenses beginning in July 2023.
Governor Charlie Baker vetoed the bill in June which the House and Senate voted to override, but in September, a referendum petition was submitted and signed by more than 80,000 Bay State residents against the work and family mobility act.
Those in favor of the law remaining in place are citing increased public safety as the main reason to vote yes.
Local law enforcement hopes it will help make roads safer for pedestrians and drivers.
“When somebody has been licensed, we know that they are trained and know that they are tested, and we know that they are insured, and those are all important things that help promote public safety within our communities,” said South Hadley Police Chief Jennifer Gundersen.
“There have been 16 states and Washington D.C. that have passed this type of legislation and it has resulted in less hidden runs and more people being insured and more people being safe on the roadways,” added Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan.
However, State Senator John Velis told Western Mass News he will be voting ‘no’ on Election Day because he believes the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles is not equipped to assess foreign documents.
“They, over and over again, have demonstrated and I don’t mean this in a cruel way, but the lack of capacity or any number of errors that take place at the RMV and again, nothing against people there or the RMV, but facts are facts…Now, we are asking them to take a look at these documents, customer service representatives. We are essentially asking them to look at foreign documents with no training whatsoever and be able to say that these are legitimate legal documents.”
We reached out to officials at the RMV who said they have no comment on the matter.
Velis’ challenger in the race for State Senator of 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District, Cecilia Calabrese, was one of the first 10 signatures on the referendum petition.
Calabrese shared concerns about part of the work and family mobility act that allows undocumented immigrants to be able to vote in elections.
“The piece of the driver’s licenses for illegals that most people have found troubling that I have spoken with is the motor voter provision… If they had left off that voter registration piece, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it,” Calabrese said.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno also expressed his hesitancy on the issue.
“I am still a little leery about this, but I am open to the opportunities to do it the correct way, If, there are the proper checks and balances in place,” Sarno noted.
However, for Clemente, a Guatemalan native who came to the U.S. 13 years ago, this law opens doors for immigrants like him who need a license to do their jobs.
“If I can borrow a tool and get the job done, I’ll be inspired and want to work more and want to do more and that’s a benefit to the citizens of the Commonwealth,” Clemente said.
He also told Western Mass News having the support of law enforcement provides a sense of comfort to the immigrant community.
“I had a job without a license for quite a while and not having a license was such a fearful situation,” Clemente added.
After facing too many challenges living in Massachusetts without a license trying to work and support his family, he moved to a state where he could legally obtain a driver’s license and now he hopes that can be the case for others living in the Bay State trying to do the same.
“As immigrants, we sort of live on the run. People are anxious everywhere all the time because we don’t have that sort of peaceful experience in life,” Clemente explained.
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