Support the news

Why Issuing Driver's Licenses To Undocumented Immigrants Makes Everyone Safer

Activists with Movimiento Cosecha rallied and began a hunger strike Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. They’re protesting what they say is the Legislature’s inaction on the Work and Family Mobility Act, which would grant access to driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. (Shannon Dooling/WBUR)
Activists with Movimiento Cosecha rallied and began a hunger strike Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. They’re protesting what they say is the Legislature’s inaction on the Work and Family Mobility Act, which would grant access to driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. (Shannon Dooling/WBUR)

A driver’s license is fundamentally a tool of public safety. It requires that all drivers receive training, pass a driver’s test, get their vision checked, and know the rules of the road. It also allows cars to get insured, providing more safety checks and resources. That’s why everyone who needs to drive on our roads should be licensed. It means better drivers and safer roads — for everyone who uses them.

For a long time, Massachusetts has had a major barrier to universal licensing. It’s the ban on licenses for the immigrants who, due to our long-outdated immigration system, are working in our industries and living in our communities without proper documentation.

These are people who we need to get licenses — and would get licenses, if they could. These are hard workers that many industries and employers rely on. They are parents who depend on carpools to get their kids to school or themselves to work. They are college graduates whose visas expired and can no longer hold a license. They are our neighbors who started new lives here after fleeing natural disasters, and are worried about when their Temporary Protected Status will end and their ability to drive will be taken away. They are the countless mothers and fathers whose American-born children will never have to face this barrier.

The Work and Family Mobility Act would extend the ability to obtain a standard Massachusetts Driver’s License to our state’s undocumented immigrants. I’ve long been supportive of this initiative, going back to when I was a State Representative on Beacon Hill. For years, these efforts have come up short, but 2020 is the year we can finally move forward. I’m proud to join our immigrant community partners and other government officials, public safety leaders, small businesses, and labor organizations to endorse this bill.

This measure has been the subject of controversy over the years. But here’s what I see more clearly than ever, since I’ve been mayor. This bill is not about where you stand on immigration. It’s a public safety bill. It’s about making our communities safer.

This is not a risky or unprecedented measure. So far, 17 other states and jurisdictions have passed laws providing undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses — states such as New York, Delaware, California and Connecticut. According to a recent study, since implementing this change, Connecticut has seen a major reduction in hit-and-run crashes — 9% between 2016 and 2018 — and a steep decline in the number of people found guilty of driving without a license. This is a policy that works, and is producing measurable results.

The Work and Family Mobility Act could similarly make our state safer by creating better trained, better regulated drivers on our roads. It will also help bolster positive relations between our immigrant communities and public safety officials. Boston leads the nation in strong community-police relations and that has made our city safer as a whole. We’ve seen that success reflected in the numbers: citywide crime rates have dropped significantly in the past few years, and they continue to decline. We want to keep building this culture of trust in our communities — and on our roads.

Our residents shouldn’t live in fear of our police officers because of their immigration status or their driving status. Our police officers need residents to trust them, so they can feel comfortable in coming forward, reporting crimes, and helping with investigations. And our public safety officers should be able to fulfill their duties and build positive relationships with the people they serve. That’s why, in Boston, we passed the Trust Act in 2014 and strengthened it in 2019. The Work and Family Mobility Act will reinforce our culture of trust in Boston and help make the entire Commonwealth safer for all.

In addition, this bill recognizes the many ways our immigrants contribute to our society. Overall, there are an estimated 275,000 undocumented immigrants living in Massachusetts. They run small businesses, work multiple jobs and pay their taxes. They contribute to our community and help keep our economy running. This measure will help us recognize and value immigrants as full members of our communities.

Signing this bill into law will have a major impact on the lives of otherwise hardworking and responsible residents who deserve to have their driver’s licenses. And it will ultimately make our roads safer for everyone. Let’s lead with our values and replace these roadblocks with opportunities.

Follow Cognoscenti on Facebook and Twitter.

Related:

Marty Walsh Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Marty Walsh is mayor of Boston. He previously represented the 13th Suffolk District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

More…

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news