Founder, The Welcome Immigrant Network, based in Salem; Peabody resident
Driving is a necessity for undocumented immigrant families — one that impacts our overall wellbeing including mental, physical, and economic health. While we urgently need to address national immigration policy, Massachusetts has a responsibility and an opportunity to respond to the needs of our community and improve the quality of life for all residents by passing pending legislation to provide undocumented immigrants access to a standard driver’s license.
Undocumented immigrants make up about 19 percent of the immigrant population at 210,000 in 2014, with 1 in 20 children — including my own — living with at least one undocumented family member. Every day, families like mine make the difficult decision to take a risk in order to get to work, or bring our children to school or to the doctor. What should be a festive birthday party invitation or dinner out with the family, turns into a discussion around safety planning in the event someone is detained. As one of the 233,035 residents that live with at least one undocumented family member, I am witness of the added stress this places on too many families and children.
Undocumented immigrants make up 4 percent of the Commonwealth’s workforce, contributing an estimated $184.6 million in state and local taxes in 2014, often working nontraditional shifts and in multiple locations that are not accessible through our public transit system. About 80 percent of Massachusetts residents rely on a vehicle to get to work. A driver’s license would increase immigrant family’s chances of attaining job security and financial stability, leading to greater economic participation and contributions to our communities.
If all undocumented immigrants in the state obtained a driver’s license, the potential revenue from license fees alone would be $12 million, with additional revenue from other fees and greater economic participation.
The proposed Work and Family Mobility Act would make our roads safer while granting us personal freedom of mobility so that we can continue to provide our families with the most basic needs. “We don’t want to break the law, but I have to provide for my family” is what I often hear from family and friends.
Amanda O. Kesterson
Gloucester resident, member of Massachusetts Republican State Committee
I am proud to be the granddaughter of Sicilian immigrants who came to this country following World War II. They came here legally, worked hard, followed all of the rules and laws of this country, and obtained their citizenship and all of the associated benefits. In doing so, they made a wonderful life for future generations in their family.
So, I take it very seriously that there are immigrants in this country illegally who believe they have the right to the benefits due to those who followed the law and sacrificed in order to have the privilege of being an American citizen or legal resident — benefits that include obtaining a driver’s license.
Giving out these licenses flies in the face of our federal immigration laws, it disrupts law enforcement’s ability to identify who is supposed to be here, and it has unintended consequences that harm our society rather than help it.
Undocumented immigrants with driver’s licenses would have a much easier time obtaining other privileges like employment, government benefits funded by the taxpayers, housing, and
schooling for their children. Government agencies would potentially be far more likely to see a license and simply accept that as proof of legal residency, rather than fact checking an individual’s immigration status. The unintended consequences of providing these licenses are glaring.
These privileges should be reserved for those who have followed the rules and come here legally. It should reward those in our society who act appropriately and legally and discourage continued lawlessness.
Undocumented immigrants have already broken our laws by being in this country illegally. We should worry that giving them a benefit for doing so means they would be far more likely to break other laws. We should always be encouraging respect for the law and not dangling carrots to continue breaking the law. Doing so only makes our society unsafe, and American citizens and those who are here legally and contributing to the development of their communities should want safety for all of us.
For those reasons, I hope we do not go down the path of providing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
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As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. Anyone interested in suggesting a topic or writing a piece can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.