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Proof of ‘lawful presence’ required for flights starting 2020

Erin Deveney, the state registrar of motor vehicles, unveiled an updated design for the state’s driver’s licenses Tuesday at a news conference.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Come 2020, Massachusetts residents will need to use identification showing they are “lawfully present” in the country should they wish to get a driver’s license, board a domestic flight, or enter a federal building.

Erin Deveney, state registrar of motor vehicles, also unveiled at a press conference Tuesday a new state driver’s license — complete with an updated design — that will be phased in over the next five years. The new license will include “what we know to be the most secure credentials that North America can offer,” she said.

The proof of legal presence required for boarding flights and entering federal buildings became law Tuesday when Governor Charlie Baker signed a measure bringing Massachusetts into compliance with the 2005 federal Real ID law that mandates stricter requirements for issuing identification cards.


The Registry of Motor Vehicles anticipates it will issue Real ID compliant cards starting in the fall of 2017, and residents will be required to have such credentials should they wish to board flights or enter federal buildings starting in October 2020. Cards that are compliant with the federal law will be marked with a white star in a yellow circle, according to Deveney.

The Real ID act is a federal post-9/11 antiterrorism initiative. Massachusetts was among many states that have yet to update their own rules, and in late 2015, the Department of Homeland Security granted the state an extension to comply with the legislation.

In addition, the state will issue new licenses with updated security features that will make forgeries more difficult, including raised lettering and laser engraving. The new license, which will be phased in over the next five years and available for residents when their current licenses expire, also includes Massachusetts symbols, including the golden State House dome, the state bird (the chickadee), and the state flower (the mayflower).


“We have taken an opportunity to have not only a secure credential, but we like to think it’s a tremendously historical and stylish credential as well,” said Deveney.

Some lawmakers have voiced opposition to the amendment Baker signed, arguing that providing proof of legal presence will be a particular inconvenience for elderly and disabled citizens.

“I think it can be a burden for many legal residents including senior citizens, the disabled, and immigrants that do have legal status but may not have a birth certificate,” said state Senator Jamie Eldridge of Acton.

He added, “It’s going to hurt a lot of people in Massachusetts.”

Other state lawmakers have recently pushed for legislation that would grant undocumented immigrants the right to obtain driver’s licenses.

Meg Bernhard can be reached at meg.bernhard@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meg_bernhard.