Anti-Immigrant Sentiment is Threatening to Drown an Initiative in Massachusetts
My area of immigration law practice has focused exclusively on healthcare – physicians, clinical trainees, nurses, and allied health care workers. Of the challenges my clients have faced one stands out: getting a Massachusetts driver’s license. Our state currently requires proof of lawful immigration status as part of the application process.
Each year it is a game of luck hoping all the pieces fall into place so my H-1B clinical trainees can renew or obtain their driver’s licenses on time. Massachusetts medical trainee licenses are issued on a yearly basis and the license is required for the H-1B visa filing. Each year there is inconsistency in the issuance of the medical licenses, which makes the driver’s license component unknown because it is dependent on the visa. Imagine a trainee’s concern of how will they get to work to treat their pediatric patients or the clinical program director’s worry of whether their resident has transportation?
That’s why I’ve been so supportive of the “Yes on 4″ campaign. This November, Massachusetts voters have the rare opportunity to enact a state law, which will positively impact immigrants and ensure our roads are safer. A Yes vote on Question 4 will remove proof of citizenship or immigration status for driver’s license applications in our state. While the change will directly impact immigrants, in reality, we are all safer if drivers on the road are tested, licensed, and insured. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts would join seventeen other states and the District of Columbia in removing proof of immigration status as a requirement for a license.
Many of these other states enacted similar laws decades ago now, and saw increased revenue from fees and a decrease in accidents. Opponents of the ballot question assert claims of voter fraud or unfettered access to federal benefits due to the issuance of a driver’s license. Such arguments are without merit. While immigration status would be removed from the driver’s license application, identity must still be verified. Issuance of a driver’s license does not provide access to means tested federal benefits. Finally, existing states with similar laws have not documented voter fraud or abuse.
Beyond that, the ballot measure is projected to result in more than $5 million in state revenue! Removing immigration status from the process will make the motor vehicle office more efficient. RMV staff must verify immigration documents for eligible application, which often results in multiple visits or applicants are erroneously turned away. It is a waste of RMV resources to have applicants visit multiple times, until they are assigned a manager or clerk who can understand the immigration documents. In fact, the confusion for RMV staff can reach a level where attorneys or a university’s international office must provide a letter outlining how an applicant qualifies for a license. The current process takes away valuable time and resources from the RMV and creates unnecessary tension between applicants and RMV officers.
Separating the issuance of driver’s licenses from the issue of lawful status can be justified from a number of perspectives. We’ll all benefit with safer roads, more efficient RMV offices, and additional state revenue!