Question #4 — unlike the other three questions — is a referendum, instead of an initiative petition. Referendums and initiative petitions are both governed by Article 48 of the Massachusetts Constitution. Just to remind everyone:
- An initiative petition is a law that is created from scratch, typically by some interest group, which the voters have to approve.
- A referendum is a vote on a law that already exists, with the question being whether the law should stay in effect or be repealed.
Question #4 is a referendum, the question being whether an existing law — in this case, Chapter 81 of the Acts of 2022, An Act relative to Work and Family Mobility — should remain in force or be repealed.
For reasons explained below, I recommend voting “yes” on Question #4 (which would keep the law in place).
What does the Work and Family Mobility Act do?
The Work and Family Mobility Act — passed over the Governor’s veto on June 9th (House) and June 10th (Senate), 2022 — provides as follows in pertinent part:
- It strikes out the provisions that no person “who does not have lawful presence in the United States” may receive a Massachusetts driver’s license, and replaces them with new provisions declaring that a person who “who does not provide proof of lawful presence” in the United States can get a Massachusetts driver’s license so long as they meet all the other requirements for a license, plus a couple of others.
- The applicant for a license must additionally submit two additional documents:
- A valid unexpired foreign passport or a valid unexpired Consular Identification document.
- A valid unexpired driver’s license from any United States state or territory; or an original or certified copy of a birth certificate; or a valid unexpired foreign national identification card; or a valid unexpired foreign driver’s license; or a marriage certificate or divorce decree issued by any state or territory of the United States.
- Each applicant must swear “under the pains and penalties of perjury,” that their license or right to operate “has not been suspended or revoked in another state, country or jurisdiction.”
- No applicant under these provisions will be enrolled in the “motor-voter” provisions of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, as codified in 52 U.S.C. chapter 205.
At first blush, one might ask the question, why should an “undocumented” immigrant be allowed to get a license in Massachusetts? Isn’t a license a “privilege” as opposed to a “right?”
Well, the simple answer is that giving licenses to the undocumented enhances public safety.
But first, let’s set a broader context. Our economy depends to a great deal on “undocumented” or (as some people prefer, “illegal”) workers in this country. Half of the busboys and dishwashers in our restaurants come from Central America. Without Haitians and Dominicans and Africans, our nursing homes would cease to function. Without Mexicans our farms would be woefully understaffed. And, as we found out during the pandemic, without foreign guest workers, Cape Cod and the Islands did not have enough staff to keep their establishments open.
We depend on these people to come here, and they’re not “taking American jobs.” They are, in fact, doing jobs that Americans refuse to do. They are helping to grow our economy.
That’s why we’re not really serious about keeping them out of our country. Not Democrats, and not Republicans either.
The “undocumented” also pay taxes, and they manage to do that without the benefit of social security cards.
Which brings us back to public safety.
A number of commentators have noted that licensing undocumented drivers and requiring them to insure their cars actually makes our roads safer. And there are plenty of other states who have already had this experience: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. And the District of Columbia.
In all of those states and territories the incidence of hit-and-run drivers has gone down. In all of those states there has been greater compliance with requirements for auto insurance. In none of those states has there been an explosion of voter fraud.
Voter fraud is, of course, the great red herring these days. It’s what Republicans love to allege, without any proof at all. But people who cannot vote could already get driver’s licenses for a long time: namely, “documented” immigrants, the ones who came here the “legal” way.
They can drive.
But they can’t vote.
This is why the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police, and a majority of the state’s sheriffs and district attorneys support allowing undocumented immigrants to have driver’s licenses.
Finally, it should be noted that this question is worded in an awkward way: it does not ask whether we want to repeal the law, it asks whether we want to “approve” of it (i.e., retain it).
For the reasons set forth above, I recommend voting “yes” on Question #4.