New driver’s license law, known as Question 4, in voters’ hands on election day

  • Come Nov. 8, voters will decide whether Massachusetts should uphold a new law that removes the proof of citizenship or immigration status requirement for driver’s licenses or vehicle registration applications. Staff File Photo/Dan Little

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 10/19/2022 3:49:08 PM
Modified: 10/19/2022 3:49:06 PM

Come Nov. 8, voters will decide whether Massachusetts should uphold a new law that removes the proof of citizenship or immigration status requirement for driver’s licenses or vehicle registration applications.

Question 4 was placed on the general election ballot through a signature drive by the group Fair and Secure Massachusetts after the Legislature overrode Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto of the law. A “yes” vote retains the law, while a “no” vote repeals it.

Opponents raise two major concerns, questioning the qualification of the Registry of Motor Vehicles to conduct thorough document checks, and the vagueness of the rights undocumented migrants would get.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl argues that if the new law goes into effect in July, it “would seriously undermine the safety and security of Massachusetts residents and threaten the integrity of our elections.”

Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, rejects the claim that the new law will allow undocumented migrants to vote. She said it does not have any legal basis because Massachusetts already has two types of IDs to determine who can register to vote.

“The statement that undocumented migrants will be able to vote ignores the fact that people with green cards can get their licenses and they are not eligible to vote,” Sabadosa said. “RMV has provisions in place that allow the issuance of licenses but not allow registry to vote.”

Maureen Maloney, one of the leaders of Fair and Secure Massachusetts, has questioned the administrative and procedural capacity of RMV regarding the authenticity of the documents.

“I think the RMV is not equipped to properly vet people coming to the United States from over 100 different countries and being able to reliably decipher their documentations that, first of all, is in the different language and, second of all, for validity,” Maloney said.

According to the law, non-citizen driver’s license and vehicle registration applicants will be required to present a valid, unexpired foreign passport or a valid, unexpired Consular Identification document along with one of the following documents:

■A valid unexpired driver’s license from any U.S. state or territory.

■An original or certified copy of a birth certificate.

■A valid, unexpired foreign national identification card.

■A valid unexpired foreign driver’s license.

■A marriage certificate or divorce decree issued by any state or territory of the United States.

Currently, 16 other states and Washington D.C. have enacted laws authorizing the issuance of driver’s licenses to immigrants who cannot provide proof of lawful presence in the country. Sabadosa said the professionals who filed the legislation in Massachusetts had conducted thorough research to exclude legal and procedural gaps.

“They worked with other state legislators, studied those legislations and spoke to other states’ RMVs,” Sabadosa explained. “They also spoke to the consulates of different countries to understand what documents might be possible to be verified.”

Sen. Jo Comerford said although the law aims to bring safe roads and equity to the state, it will not be accessible to all undocumented migrants.

“(The law) is directing very high officials to make sure that undocumented migrants go through the right procedures,” the Northampton Democrat said. “The law does not make everyone immediately eligible. Undocumented individuals will be required to pass the test, pay the fees and present all valid documents.”

Western Massachusetts communities have been actively involved in supporting the new law. Sabadosa said farmers, business owners, religious leaders from the immigrant families, insurance companies and police chiefs have testified in support.

“It is important for western Massachusetts communities because we live in the part of the state without reliable public transportation,” Sabadosa said. “People need to go to work, to school, try to live. It is challenging to do any of it here if you do not have access to a car.”

Sabadosa said business owners from downtown Northampton filed a petition supporting the new law, and farmers from western Massachusetts who need a skilled workforce testified that without it, “the workforce could not get to work.”

The bill aims to make roads safer, but Comerford said it would also help create decent living conditions for undocumented migrants and positively impact local economies.

“As a state senator, I say yes, it’s about safer roads,” Comerford said, “but it is also about economic development, public health and workforce expansion.”

Nino Mtchedlishvili writes for the Athol Daily News as part of the Boston University Statehouse Program.

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