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Mass. House approves bill to expand driver’s licenses for immigrants


Lawmakers entered the chamber of the House of Representatives at the Massachusetts State House in this file photo. Jessica Rinaldi

BOSTON (AP) — The Massachusetts House on Wednesday approved a bill that would allow immigrants to the country to illegally obtain state driver’s licenses.

If passed, Massachusetts will join 16 other states and the District of Columbia that already have similar laws.

The legislation, approved by 120 votes to 36, would require individuals to provide documentation to obtain a license, including proof of their identity, state residency and date of birth. The new rules would apply to those who do not have proof that they are legally in the country, including those who are not eligible for a Social Security number.

Those applying for a license must present at least two documents. The first must be either a valid, unexpired foreign passport or a valid, unexpired consular ID.

A second type of identification could include an unexpired driver’s license from any U.S. state or territory, a birth certificate, an unexpired valid foreign ID card or foreign driver’s license, or a marriage certificate issued in Massachusetts.

At least one document must contain a photograph.

The bill also stipulates that immigrants eligible for driver’s licenses would not be registered to vote as a result.

Under the legislation, the Motor Vehicle Register would be required to offer regulations on the specific types of documents that are acceptable.

Licenses would not be available until July 1, 2023.

Immigration campaigners have long been pushing for the measure, saying it will help improve public safety – including for those who already have a driver’s license – by requiring immigrants to demonstrate they can drive a car properly. car and that they have obtained the necessary insurance in the event of an accident. accident.

The bill would also make it less likely for immigrants to leave the scene of an accident because they would be less at risk of deportation with a driver’s license, proponents said.

The bill has won the support of many sheriffs and district attorneys in the state and police chiefs in major cities in Massachusetts.

Critics of the measure have argued that driving licenses are a privilege that should not be offered to those who are not legally in the country.

“The bill may seem simple, but the issue, as we know, is complicated,” said Democratic State Rep. William Straus, co-chair of the Legislative Joint Committee on Transportation.

Republican Governor Charlie Baker has expressed opposition to similar efforts in the past. A Baker aide said he supports existing state laws that allow people across the country to legally obtain driver’s licenses.

Skeptics and opponents of the bill should look to the experience of the 16 states that have already passed similar measures, said Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, a Democrat from Springfield and son of immigrants.

“All fears, arguments and objections have failed,” Gonzalez said.

While some law enforcement backed the bill, many refused to take a stand, according to Republican State Rep. Timothy Whelan of Brewster.

Whelan said the new rules would place too heavy a burden on those who issue licenses.

“Are we demanding too much of our motor vehicle registry clerks? Are we asking them to become experts in foreign documentation and forgery detection? Whelan said. “This is not a slam dunk in the law enforcement world by any reasonable measure.”

The bill could also act as a decoy to those in the country illegally knowing they could get a driver’s license in Massachusetts, said Republican Rep. Paul Frost of Auburn.

“It sends the wrong message,” he said.

The 120-36 vote means the bill has won the support of more than two-thirds of lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled House — enough to override a potential Baker veto.

The bill still needs to be approved by the Massachusetts Senate, also controlled by Democrats, before heading to Baker. Senate Democrats are also hoping for a two-thirds majority vote.

The formal legislative session ends on July 31.


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