The goal has always been to not just get a vote on the bill, but to get driver’s licenses into people’s hands.
In a historic moment for Massachusetts to protect immigrants, we recently voted to pass the Work and Family Mobility Act in the House of Representatives. I wrote this bill to allow all residents to apply for a standard driver’s license regardless of their immigration status. Thousands live in fear of detention or deportation every time they get in a car to drive. The vote, an overwhelming 120-36, comes after a nearly two-decade long fight, and this bill is my number one priority this session.
The work on the Work and Family Mobility Act began at the local level. Over three years ago, Ben Echevarria of the Welcome Project and Natalicia Tracy of the Brazilian Workers Center shared that getting a driver’s license is the most tangible need for immigrants, a state-level issue that could dispel fear in the local immigrant community. They asked me to take a leadership role on this bill, and connected me with the Driving Families Forward Coalition, an incredible immigrant-led group.
My constituents in Somerville and Medford have led the way in advocating to expand access to driver’s licenses for years. Many saw firsthand how the inability to get driver’s licenses impacts the lives and success of immigrant families in our community and statewide. The Welcome Project and countless individuals organized on the ground to build support, get others to pay attention, and make this a top issue.
We were able to build upon local action to garner broader support statewide. Working alongside the Driving Families Forward Coalition, we pulled in faith communities, business leaders and even law enforcement to make our case. The goal has always been to not just get a vote on the bill, but to get driver’s licenses into people’s hands. Because Governor Baker has threatened to veto the bill, we have worked to get a two-thirds majority of the House to support the Work and Family Mobility Act, to be able to override a veto. We built upon relationships with House members around the state with different priorities, and pulled in unusual partners, like the District Attorney’s Association, to support the bill. In the end, we succeeded in a vote that went well beyond the number needed to override a potential veto by the Governor.
Driving is a key tool of economic mobility, and having a driver’s license allows people to safely get to work, drive their kids to school, and participate in their community. Many jobs are not accessible to the routes or hours of the MBTA. The pandemic has added new urgency to this issue, and driver’s licenses give families more reliable access to groceries and health care services, including COVID-19 vaccinations and testing.
Expanding access to driver’s licenses also improves public safety. This bill ensures that everyone on the road has passed road tests, submitted documentation, and purchased auto insurance. Other states that have passed similar legislation have seen significant reductions in the number of uninsured drivers and hit-and-run accidents, as people were more likely to remain at the scene of an accident rather than flee due to fears of deportation.
This is a victory for people in Somerville and Medford who have done the work on the ground to ensure that people will be able to drive without fear of deportation and family separation. I am incredibly proud to represent people who advocate and take action on immigrant justice. Working with local leaders, we led the way on this bill. I look forward to it getting across the finish line, and continuing to work for justice in our communities.
Christine P. Barber is a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Barber sworn in January 2015. A resident of Somerville, Massachusetts, she was elected as a Democrat to represent the 34th Middlesex district.