A bill that would allow immigrants in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses in Massachusetts has become law after the state Senate voted Thursday to override the veto of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.
The 32-8 vote followed a successful override vote Wednesday in the House. Massachusetts now joins 16 other states and the District of Columbia that have similar laws.
The new law is a win for immigrant rights groups that have long pushed for the measure, framing it in part as a public safety measure saying that the people will have to show they can properly operate a car and get insurance in the event of an accident.
Baker has opposed the idea of allowing those in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses, saying it would require the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles to issue state credentials to people without the ability to verify their identity.
With the changes, Baker said, a standard Massachusetts driver’s license would no longer confirm that a person is who they say they are.
Under the new law, those in the country illegally will be able to apply for a driver’s license if they can provide the Registry of Motor Vehicles with a foreign passport or consular identification document.
They will also have to provide one of five additional documents: a driver’s license from another U.S. state or territory; a birth certificate; a foreign national identification card; a foreign driver’s license; or a marriage certificate or divorce decree from any U.S. state or territory.
The new law takes effect July 1, 2023.
The changes will help improve the lives of those working to support their families, according to Democratic Sen. Adam Gomez, who voted to override Baker's veto, saying the licenses will help alleviate some of the fears of interacting with police.
“As a Latino-American growing up around people from all different backgrounds, I have seen firsthand the barriers the undocumented immigrants face when trying to secure employment, housing and higher education,” he said. “Legislation like this will reach these communities and allow them to flourish.”
The licenses could pose unintended problems, according to Republican Sen. Bruce Tarr, who voted to uphold Baker's veto.
“We're creating a tremendous opportunity that it could be abused for purposes for which it is not intended,” he said. “It also creates an incredible threat to the integrity of the electoral process.”
Baker, in his veto letter to lawmakers last month, also said the new law would significantly increases the risk that noncitizens will be registered to vote.
Supporters say those concerns are overblown in part because those using the licenses to attempt to register to vote could end up facing deportation.
Geoff Diehl, a Republican candidate for governor, said Thursday that he would support a ballot question to repeal the new law.