One day after state legislators approved a bill to allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses in Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker vetoed the measure, saying it poses a risk to election security.
In a letter rejecting the legislation late Friday afternoon, Baker said the bill requires the Registry of Motor Vehicles “to issue state credentials to people without the ability to verify their identity” and “increases the risk that noncitizens will be registered to vote.”
He also expressed concern that the identification wouldn’t distinguish an undocumented person from a documented one.
“Consequently, a standard Massachusetts driver’s license will no longer confirm that a person is who they say they are,” Baker wrote.
The House and the Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve the bill Thursday, supporting it 118-36 and 32-8, respectively.
Those margins were large enough to override Baker’s veto. A two-thirds vote is required in each branch to override the governor’s veto and make the bill law.
A spokesperson for Senate President Karen E. Spilka said the chamber will override, but did not provide a date. The House will override the veto during its next formal session on June 8, according to a spokeswoman for House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano.
In a tweet, Spilka called Baker’s veto “misguided” and said her chamber looks forward to overriding it.
“We are a nation of immigrants,” she said. “We all benefit from increased public safety. And everyone deserves to feel safe and get to work, pick up children and be a part of their communities without fear.”
If the bill becomes law, people without legal immigration status could obtain a driver’s license by providing two documents that prove their identity, such as a foreign passport and birth certificate or a passport and a marriage certificate. The new ID requirements would take effect on July 1, 2023, after the next governor is elected.
In tweets Friday, Democrat gubernatorial candidates Attorney General Maura Healey and state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz said they support the chambers in their presumptive override of Baker’s veto.
“Advocates, legislators, and law enforcement have been working to pass this bill for years, and we won’t give up now. We will get this done for our immigrant community,” Healey said.
Chang-Díaz said Baker’s veto is “nothing more than fear-mongering.”
“Looking forward to overriding this veto,” she said.
Former state lawmaker Geoff Diehl and businessman Chris Doughty, the state’s Republican gubernatorial candidates, have each spoken against the legislation.
Massachusetts would join 16 other states and the District of Columbia, which already allow undocumented people to receive driver’s licenses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The legislation, which the two-term Republican governor has long opposed, has been backed by the attorney general, the majority of the state’s sheriffs and district attorneys, and the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police.
Baker’s concerns over election security have been rejected by Democratic leaders, including Secretary of State William F. Galvin, the state’s top election official.
“The raising of the voting issue is a red herring,” Galvin said in an interview Friday. “I am very committed to election security, I always have been. I think this has been exaggerated. This is about driving, not about voting.”
Advocates who have been pressing the issue of driver’s licenses for decades expressed their disappointment in Baker’s veto.
Kathy Henriquez Perlera, a 23-year-old consultant who immigrated from El Salvador, volunteers for advocacy group Cosecha Massachusetts. She said the veto was as upsetting as it was empowering.
Henriquez Perlera, who is undocumented, said it’s satisfying to know that her group and others have mobilized enough voters to elect a legislature that overwhelmingly supports their cause.
“We have done that work so well that we don’t need his signature to pass it,” she said. “We knew from day one that Governor Baker wasn’t on our side. We just had to do what we needed to do.”
Lenita Reason of the Brazilian Worker Center and 32BJ SEIU Vice President Roxana Rivera, cochairs of a coalition that worked closely on the legislation, said in a joint statement that “in his veto, the governor simply repeats claims that have been disproven before.”
“We are confident that the majority of legislators from across the state who initially supported the bill will not be swayed by this veto and will swiftly vote to override,” they said.
Elizabeth Sweet, the executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said her group expects the legislature to “waste no time in overriding the governor’s veto.”
“The policy would not only make our communities safer, but benefit our economy and bolster trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities,” she said.