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OPINION

Legislature should approve driver’s licenses for undocumented residents

When members of the immigrant community are asked about their most pressing need, the answer is always the same: a driver’s license.

Natanael Monroy takes part in a November 2019 protest march by Cosecha Massachusetts. Participants walked from East Boston to Winthrop to build support for the Work and Family Mobility Act.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

On June 23, the Transportation Committee will hold a hearing for the Work and Family Mobility Act, better known as the Driver’s License bill. The Legislature should pass the bill, which would allow qualified undocumented immigrants in the state to apply for a driver’s license.

We have been working philanthropically with Massachusetts’ immigrant communities for over 20 years. Currently, we support over 50 immigrant-facing nonprofit organizations across the state. We know these communities very well.

Regularly we ask members of the undocumented community to identify their most pressing needs. The answer is always the same: They need a driver’s license. They need a license so they can safely commute to work and so they can purchase and insure their cars on the regulated market. Generally, this population does not live or work near public transportation.

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This population was disproportionately ravaged by COVID-19; they largely work in front-line jobs and live in crowded conditions in communities that had high rates of infection. Undocumented residents care for the elderly, harvest crops, process fish, bag groceries, cook and deliver takeout, clean our homes, and care for our lawns and gardens.

Sixteen states have passed laws allowing undocumented residents to apply for driver’s licenses, including Vermont and California and red states like Utah and Virginia. Here is why Massachusetts should do the same:

Public Safety. Tens of thousands of undocumented residents are driving but have not passed a driving test and are uninsured. Studies from California and Connecticut have shown that granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants leads to a significant decrease (9 to 10 percent) in hit-and-run accidents and improved traffic safety. Utah saw a drop of 80 percent in uninsured drivers, and New Mexico saw its number of uninsured decrease by 60 percent.

Economics. Massachusetts state revenue would increase as undocumented residents pay for licenses, auto registrations, and excise taxes; and more drivers in the insurance pool would also lower rates. In addition to $5 million from initial registration fees, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Institute estimates revenue from new drivers could reach more than $5 million per year from fuel taxes from newly licensed drivers, and from sales taxes paid on cars and car-related purchases.

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Fairness. According to the American Immigration Council, undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts paid an estimated $593.6 million in federal taxes and $252.5 million in state and local taxes in 2018. Despite these significant contributions, they cannot receive benefits from programs like Social Security or Medicare. Undocumented immigrants contribute to the state’s economy, and they should be allowed to hold a driver’s license.


The Legislature should pass the Driver’s License bill. Let’s be fair to our undocumented residential neighbors who have done so much for our state, especially during COVID. And let’s do the single thing that our undocumented residents need the most.

Larry Fish is retired chairman and CEO of Citizens Bank. Atsuko Fish is founder of the Japanese Women’s Leadership Initiative.