Our Opinion: Sound case for driver's license bill

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A bill providing a pathway for undocumented immigrants to receive driver's licenses in Massachusetts finally made its way out of committee Wednesday with a favorable recommendation. The bill's pathway to becoming law is strewn with obstacles but this is a significant step for a bill that will benefit the state's drivers as well as undocumented immigrants trying to provide better lives for their families.

The Work and Family Mobility Act, approved by the House Transportation Committee, would give an estimated 185,000 undocumented immigrants a form of government-issued identification and remove language from current las forbidding undocumented residents of the state from getting licenses. The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a Pittsfield Democrat who has lobbied hard for its passage.

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The safety argument for the legislation is a strong one, as passage would assure that undocumented aliens will have passed driver tests and shown that they know the rules of the road. This is why it is supported by the Massachusetts Police Chiefs Association, with Association president Brian Kyes, the chief of police in Chelsea, telling the State House News Service that it will also help police officers feel safer because they will be able to identify drivers that they pull over.

At public hearings on the bill, some immigrants told the committee that undocumented family members pulled over while driving and discovered not to have a license were turned over to US Customs and Immigration Enforcement for deportation, even though they did not have criminal records up to that point. Immigrant advocates assert that the licenses will enable hard-working undocumented workers, who contribute to our state's economy, to expand their job and educational opportunities.

The bill has its skeptics in the House and Senate and Gov. Charlie Baker has long opposed it, explaining that undocumented residents will still have to prove their identity and he doesn't see how this can be done. In response to his concerns, Joseph Boncore, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, told the State House News Service that his version of the legislation requires two forms of identification, including at least one with a photograph and one with a date-of-birth. These could come in the form of a passport, valid driver's license from another state or territory, an original birth certificate, or a valid federal employment authorization document.

Fourteen states, including the bordering states of New York, Connecticut and Vermont have passed similar laws. California, said Ms. Farley-Bouvier at a hearing in the fall, saw a 10 percent drop in hit-and-runs, or 4,000 incidents, since its passage there in 2013.

On Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that a suit will be brought against the Trump White House following the Department of Homeland Security's decision to ban New Yorkers from the Trusted Traveler program which expedites border crossings. The governor suspects that this is retribution for the state's policy on driver's licenses for undocumented residents. Massachusetts could get the same treatment but it is important to stand up to Trump bullying, not cave in to it. We hope that this legislation, which has been endorsed by the Alliance for Business Leadership and the Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation, as well as Catholic Charities and Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, will pass the House and Senate this session, win over the governor, and become law to the benefit of many.

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