The inability of Congress, specifically the House of Representatives, to do its job and enact overdue immigration reform means that it falls upon the states to do whatever they can to address inequities. The Safe Driving Bill, which if passed in Massachusetts will benefit hard-working immigrants, raise revenue for the state and make our roads safer, is a good example of one of those necessary state initiatives.
The bill, which is sponsored in the House by State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a Pittsfield Democrat, was the subject of a packed hearing Wednesday at the Statehouse in Boston. The legislation would enable immigrants here illegally to get driver's licenses even though they do not have Social Security numbers. They are an important part of the state's workforce and many work odd hours and live in rural areas where there is little public transportation available.
To get driver's licenses, the immigrants would have to go through driver's education programs like anyone else, which will lead to safer drivers, and will be required to buy insurance. Celia J. Blue, the head of the state's Registry of Motor Vehicles, said at the public hearing that beyond making the roads safer the legislation would generate roughly $15 million in registration fees. The Safe Driving Coalition, which includes elected officials, law enforcement officials and members of the medical community, support the bill, and Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi and Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn have submitted letters of support.
Opponents assert that the bill would reward those who are in the state in violation of federal immigration laws, but in the absence of federal immigration reform, state officials must be pragmatic. Millions of illegal immigrants are not going to be deported, and if they are given a path to citizenship they can come out of the shadows and become taxpaying Americans. Conservatives who refuse to accept what they see as "amnesty" have blocked reform, leaving immigrants in the shadows to their detriment and America's and requiring states to pass pragmatic reform measures.
Neighboring Vermont and Connecticut have passed their versions of the Safe Driving Bill and Massachusetts should do so this session. It is the right thing to do for immigrants and for the state, which will have safer roads and an additional source of revenue as a result.