Why they support “driving privileges for all qualified residents, regardless of immigration status”
The legislature is considering a bill that could potentially lift restrictions that do not allow immigrants, including those without authorized immigration status, living in Massachusetts to get a standard state driver’s license. The Work and Family Mobility Act is supported by over 270 organizations in the Commonwealth. According to a media release, it would not only transform thousands of Bay State residents’ lives, it would also improve the state’s economy through increased auto and insurance sales, improved commerce, and increased tax and fee receipts. The bill would also improve road safety, provide healthier opportunities to those it benefits, and contribute to overall public health.” On Feb. 1, the Driving Families Forward Coalition held a briefing on the bill, featuring speakers such as Roberta Fitzpatrick of Arbella Insurance, Jeneczka Roman, advocacy and coalition manager at Massachusetts Public Health Association, and Phil Korman, executive director of Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.
“We want members of our community who are essential workers to be there when we need them,” said Fitzpatrick. “But we’re perpetuating an obstacle to their ability to drive to work legally by not passing this law, and it’s really just not right. Finally, I’ve read studies where policy analysts have opined that often driver’s licenses to immigrants without status can help another step towards racial equity. Many of MA immigrants without status are people of color, and granting status to eligible drivers would not only improve racial equity and improve family’s financial stability, but it will also help people better integrate into community life. So, in closing, I’d say that providing all qualified applicants in MA with the opportunity to obtain a driver’s license, regardless of immigration status, is really an important step towards ensuring that more drivers are tested, that they know the rules of the road, and that those operating vehicles on the roads in the Commonwealth comply with our mandatory insurance laws…”
Roman also provided remarks on why she supports the legislation.
“There is a strong connection between a person’s access to reliable transportation and their ability to access healthcare when they need it,” said Roman. “The fear of getting pulled over for driving without a license, arrest, and discrimination, create significant barriers and delays in accessing healthcare services, which can result in missed appointments, increased health expenditures, and just overall poor health outcomes. Beyond healthcare access, barriers to personal transportation also affect health in a myriad of other ways. Without freedom of movement, residents without status and their families face unnecessary barriers in obtaining healthy food, well paying jobs, educational opportunities, and stable, affordable housing.”
Korman said, “Sometimes it takes a crisis to see reality,” adding that often people who work on Massachusetts farms, helping the Commonwealth to put food on the table, are immigrants. “Beyond the pandemic, we ignored the people who work on our farms and choose not to see them.”
“For many farm workers who are immigrants, they commute 20 to 30 miles to get to the farms,” said Korman. “Public transportation is not an option here in Western MA … so farm workers crowd into a shared vehicle or minivan.” He added, “As a Commonwealth, we cannot keep telling ourselves that people who work on farms are essential, because we depend on them to feed our families, and at the same time, deny them the right to legally drive, which puts them at higher risk to get deathly sick.”
Shira Laucharoen is a reporter based in Boston. She currently serves as the assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. In the past she has written for Sampan newspaper, The Somerville Times, Scout Magazine, Boston Magazine, and WBUR.