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Activists Launch Hunger Strike, Urging Mass. Lawmakers To Pass Bill Allowing Licenses For Undocumented Immigrants

Activists gather outside the Massachusetts State House on Monday to launch a hunger strike in support of a bill that would allow driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. (Shannon Dooling/WBUR)
Activists gather outside the Massachusetts State House on Monday to launch a hunger strike in support of a bill that would allow driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. (Shannon Dooling/WBUR)

Supporters of legislation that would create a pathway for undocumented immigrants to get Massachusetts driver's licenses launched a hunger strike outside the State House on Monday morning.

The event comes two days ahead of a deadline for joint legislative committees to report on bills. Committees can give bills favorable or unfavorable reports, send them to study, or request extensions for more time to consider them.

The activists are calling on House Speaker Robert DeLeo, House Transportation Committee Chairman William Straus and other members of the Transportation Committee to endorse and advance the driver's licenses bill (H 3012, S 2061), known as the Work and Family Mobility Act.

According to organizers with Movimiento Cosecha, two immigrant leaders of the group were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) earlier this month in incidents that "would have been prevented if undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts had access to drivers' licenses."

Omar Contreras, a hunger striker who is originally from El Salvador, said Monday that in the 15 years he's lived in Massachusetts, he's repeatedly heard lawmakers talk about passing similar legislation.

"Fifteen years of false promises are enough. They always say the same thing and this law has never moved out of the transport committee," Contreras said, speaking in Spanish. "And that's why today, we have a goal: fight to win licenses in the state of Massachusetts."

Contreras said the hunger strike is indefinite and was timed for Wednesday's upcoming legislative deadline.

Amelia Gonzalez Pinal is one of the organizers of the strike. She said the 11 people observing the hunger strike will spend their day inside the Nurses Hall of the State House and move to the Beacon Hill Friends House in the evening.

Gov. Charlie Baker has said in the past that he would veto the legislation if it makes it to his desk.

With reporting from State House News Service's Katie Lannan and WBUR's Shannon Dooling

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