To the editor of THE EAGLE:
It’s about time we permit people without Social Security numbers to legally drive in Massachusetts. People without Social Security numbers, including undocumented aliens, can legally buy cars, insure them and register them, but they cannot get a driver’s license. This distinction has no rational basis and it promotes insurance headaches in the event of accidents.
Many undocumented aliens are hard-working, pay taxes and have children who are U.S. citizens, but they cannot legally drive to work or transport their children to appointments. People frustrated by the law drive anyway because they must, especially in non-urban places like Berkshire County, where I live and practice.
The law results in unfair targeting of people perceived to be immigrants. Large numbers end up being targeted by police who scan registration plates for car owners who have an "X" by their name, signifying the owner is unlicensed. This "random" police scan results in an a motor vehicle stop and a charge of unlicensed operation, which is an arrestable misdemeanor under M.G.L.c. 90, Section 10. Such cases clog up the courts and are given an inordinate amount of resources and time because of immigration consequences. Considering the large numbers of unlicensed operation cases in Berkshire County, one wonders whether their is profiling. I have seen no cases in which an undocumented motorist of European descent is targeted the same way as motorists of Latin American or African ancestry.
The law produces tragic results, including prolonged detention and the separation of families. Sometimes, officers contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the driver is detained under the Secure Communities initiative. Sometimes, knowing the person is on an I.C.E. detainer, the motorist is not even charged but simply taken by I.C.E. agents for processing. Maybe there will be bond, but often a person can be detained pending removal proceedings in Immigration Court for months.
If the person is charged with unlicensed operation, the maximum penalty is $500 for a first offense. However, an I.C.E. detainer could subject a person to detention without the possibility of bail, and a case could languish until it is resolved while the motorist is detained. Once the local criminal case is resolved, the motorist remains detained until immigration bond or removal. State and town police should not be in the business of immigration enforcement.
House Bill 3285, which was heard Wednesday (Eagle, March 6), interjects common sense and humanity into operator licensing in Massachusetts. The bill proposes to let the RMV issue licenses to those who do not have Social Security numbers but can show residency. I hope the bill passes, both for the sake of so many good people who drive in abject fear, and to relieve a little of the pressure brought by the large number of cases in criminal court.
RAYMOND J. JACOUB
The writer is a Pittsfield-based attorney.