Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Undocumented immigrants should be able to drive legally

A group advocating for a hearing on bills that would allow undocumented immigrants to acquire driver’s licenses in Massachusetts arrived on Beacon Hill Monday afternoon after a 25-mile walk from Framingham. Their march brings to light an important issue that gets at the heart of what it means to be an American.

In January, state lawmakers proposed legislation that would allow driver’s licenses to be issued to undocumented immigrants in the state. However, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has vowed he would “certainly veto” any such legislation.

Baker’s position is not just morally wrong — it’s objectively dangerous.

Undocumented immigrants will drive, too, even if they lack the license that legally allows them to do so. Preventing them from doing so legally only serves to endanger the state. Everyone needs to be able to drive to work, pick up their kids from school or buy groceries from the store.

Granting driver’s licenses to everyone — be they legal residents or undocumented residents — increases public safety. Undocumented residents would need to take a standardized driving test to obtain a license, after all, which would ensure their driving is safe.

What’s more, allowing undocumented immigrants to have driver’s licenses would help first responders and health care providers better determine identity in the event of an emergency. For these reasons, it’s a necessity of basic human care.

Currently, 12 states and Washington, D.C., allow undocumented individuals to hold driver’s licenses. There is current legislation in Florida, New York and New Hampshire that would extend the right to drive legally to many more of these people.

A driver’s license does not define citizenship — it is a physical representation of a right to which every resident of the United States should be entitled. This legislation isn’t about amnesty for undocumented immigrants. It is about giving these people a tool that, in many cases, is vital to leading a successful and productive life in this country.

Obtaining a driver’s license requires registering with a motor vehicle agency, which is a compelling cause for concern given the zealously anti-immigrant, pro-deportation rhetoric and practices of the Trump administration.

Massachusetts must ensure the data it collects to give driver’s licenses to undocumented residents is protected from agencies such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Otherwise, undocumented people may be deterred from applying for a license in the first place — defeating the purpose of the initiative.

The legislation proposed on Beacon Hill in January would guarantee these necessary privacy protections, according to WBUR. This includes a provision that licenses could not be used for prosecution.

There is little downside to this legislation. Massachusetts would collect revenue from driver’s license application fees and overall, licenses could increase the mobility of the Commonwealth’s hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants, which could further stimulate local economies.

Allowing undocumented residents to drive legally would allow these people, many of whom may already be prone to racial profiling, to be less fearful of getting pulled over and facing serious legal consequences like deportation. It would make roads safer for everyone in the state.

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