LYNN — It’s time to shatter negative myths dogging proposals to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, said state Sen. Brendan Crighton.
The Lynn Democrat and state Representatives Tricia Farley-Bouvier (Pittsfield) and Christine Barber (Somerville-Medford) support allowing state residents to apply for a standard driver’s license regardless of immigration status.
“The Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) cannot issue a driver’s license to anyone that cannot prove U.S. citizenship or lawful presence in the United States,” Registry spokeswoman Judith Reardon Riley said in a statement.
Crighton said the Work and Family Mobility Act would allow an undocumented immigrant to bring a passport from their country of origin or obtain documentation from their country’s consulate and present the documents along with a standard license application at the RMV.
“They would go through the same vetting as anyone else,” Crighton said.
The legislation only applies to standard license applications and not REAL ID application requirements subject to federal standards.
Passed by Congress in 2005, REAL ID sets minimum federal security standards for states to follow in issuing driver’s licenses. Licenses not in compliance with the standards risk being refused during federal pre-flight checks.
Crighton and the bill’s Massachusetts House sponsors are building support for the legislation in advance of a fall hearing before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation.
Advance work on the bill includes dispelling myths claiming driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants provide a path to citizenship and voting.
“People say we are rewarding bad behavior by giving them a license, but the federal immigration system is broken,” Crighton said.
According to a fact sheet on the licensing legislation, 255,000 undocumented immigrants lived in Massachusetts as of 2016 — roughly one-fifth of the immigrant population.
Essex County Community Organization (ECCO) immigrant organizer Isabel Lopez said more immigrants can become part of the Massachusetts workforce if they can obtain driver’s licenses.
“It’s important because we see families unable to work because they have to look for work close by their home or walk 40 minutes from a bus stop. They are unable to find a good-paying job. If they have a car, they will be more successful,” Lopez said.
Crighton said the intense national focus on immigration and the nation’s immigration policies highlights an “unequal system” denying licenses to Massachusetts’ undocumented immigrants.
Twelve states and the District of Columbia allow residents to apply for a driver’s license regardless of immigration status. Crighton said information gathered in these states documented reductions in hit-and-run accidents and driving uninsured.
Allowing all immigrants to obtain licenses boosts the economy, he said, by making it easier for people to work and broadening the number of people paying application and license renewal fees to the Registry.
“This is good for public safety, the economy, and it’s the morally right thing to do,” Crighton said.