Massachusetts Would Benefit from the Work and Family Mobility Act
We live in some troubling times in America. There is a flood of rhetoric pouring out from the current presidential administration that demonizes and castigates immigrants. This dangerous bombast, undeniably encouraged by Donald Trump and rooted in xenophobia, fans the flames of hate and infects the national discourse. This behavior is ungodly, immoral, and does not represent the best of what America can be. It is hypocritical for politicians to take their oath on the Bible but then ignore its teachings—such as the clear command in Leviticus 19:34 to welcome the stranger with love. And how can anyone claim to follow the ways of Jesus if they will not love their neighbors as themselves, which Jesus said is one of the greatest commandments to live by. Because of the antics of Trump toward immigrants, the trickle-down effect has affected many state governments and has to an extent prevented certain laws from passing that would protect immigrants from unjust harassment and enable them to live free from injustice.
In the history of the United States, a moral critique has always been at the center of any challenge to the structural inequities that exist in society—slavery, the denial of women’s rights, and the denial of voting rights are examples of social inequalities that have been challenged morally. Those evils have never been overcome without a moral critique that challenged the thinking and hearts of society. Such a critique is needed today to challenge how the American government is treating black and brown immigrants.
Historically, the state of Massachusetts has been in the vanguard of positive change for the nation. The American Revolution was started in Massachusetts by immigrants, which led to the creation of the United States. Massachusetts was the first colony to abolish slavery, the first state to legalize gay marriage, and the first state to offer a form of universal healthcare. Yet today, although Massachusetts is reputed to be a progressive and liberal state, its government is lagging behind on progressive state policies when it comes to the immigrant community, such as granting driver’s licenses to tax-paying immigrants. Meanwhile, 13 other states and the District of Columbia have already enacted laws to allow immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
The Massachusetts state government has been dragging its feet on the issue of granting immigrant driver’s licenses. The continued, and seemingly purposeful, delays in passing the proposed law, the Work and Family Mobility Act, puts all drivers and citizens at risk. If passed, accidents and hit-and-runs would decrease dramatically as they have in California and Connecticut since enacting the bill. Having all drivers tested and insured makes the roads safer for everyone, and since 78% of Massachusetts workers age 16 or over get to work by car, van or truck, enacting this law should be a priority. Further, public transit options are limited outside of the Greater Boston area and not having a driver’s license makes life difficult to navigate when trying to get to work, take children to school or the doctor, or even buy groceries. Residents, regardless of citizenship status, should be able to drive without fear of unjust persecution or deportation.
Massachusetts is estimated to have 250,000 undocumented folks living amongst us. This is a fact that we cannot arrest our way out of. We cannot continue to tie up our court systems with cases that would be solved with a law like the Work and Family Mobility Act. Politicians have for too long been using immigration as a political football, scapegoating immigrants for an issue they themselves created by looking the other way.
If Gov. Baker does not usher in this just and ethical law, he will not only be complicit in Trump’s xenophobia and racism, he will be increasing the danger to the Massachusetts citizens he is sworn to serve.
The Rev. Vernon K. Walker is public policy director of the Young Democrats of Massachusetts and affiliated with the Berachah Church.