Drivers’ Licenses and Immigration Status

Update, June 10, 2022: This legislation was finally approved over the Governor’s veto yesterday. Here is a video discussion of the legislation (recorded on June 13, 2022).

Current law provides that “No [driver’s] license of any type may be issued to any person who does not have lawful presence in the United States.

A bill currently before the senate would change that sentence to read: “An applicant for a [driver’s] license . . . who does not provide proof of lawful presence, . . . , shall be eligible . . . if the applicant meets all other qualifications for licensure and provides satisfactory proof to the registrar of their identity, date of birth and Massachusetts residency.”

In other words, the bill would give licenses to people who cannot prove lawful presence in the United States, provided they can prove their residence and identity and pass the same tests that everyone else has to pass. I have supported this change publicly since 2014 and I look forward to voting for the bill.

My fundamental view about immigration policy is that it is up to the federal government. It is not the concern of state and local government. However, one of the top concerns of state and local government is to assure that all drivers know the rules of the road and how to operate a vehicle safely. It is often necessary to drive and we are all safer if more of the people on our roads have the required training and insurance.

Some argue that to discourage illegal immigration, we should make life in Massachusetts as inconvenient and uncomfortable as possible for people without lawful immigrant status. I do not agree with that approach. We hurt ourselves when we isolate people in our midst. We benefit from immigrant labor in many occupations and we should treat all workers as well as we can.

Others express the valid concern that a driver’s license is an identification card and we do not want to facilitate the creation of false credentials. The bill gives this concern careful attention in two different ways.

First, the bill does not allow persons who cannot prove lawful presence to get a “Real-ID” which would get them into federal buildings and on to planes. Instead, they will get a card that is valid as a license to drive but is not valid for federal identification.

Second, applicants for a license who do not possess United States identity credentials like a U.S. passport will have to provide similarly rigorous foreign credentials — a foreign passport or an identity card issued by their consulate. In addition, they will have to provide a corroborating document like a license from another state or a birth certificate. At least one of the proferred documents must be a photo ID and at least one must include birth date.

Some have expressed the concern that since one can register to vote through the drivers license application process, the new law would allow non-citizens to vote. Again, the law specifically speaks to this, requiring the Registry of Motor Vehicles to “establish procedures . . . to ensure that an applicant for a Massachusetts license . . . who does not provide proof of lawful presence shall not be automatically registered to vote.” The law would not take effect for a year, allowing time to assure that these procedures are in place.

While the new law cements the requirement of procedures to protect the voter rolls, procedures are already in place according to the Secretary of State. He states on his website that “The RMV . . . collect[s] information about lawful presence in the United States and they will not submit names to local election officials of any persons they have determined are not U.S. citizens.” This is not a new concern. Currently many people who are not citizens but are lawfully present in the United States have drivers licenses: for example, a green card holder can get a license.

Similar legislation has been passed in 16 other states. The bill has the support of many law enforcement officers, including the Sheriffs of Middlesex County and Suffolk County, and the police chiefs of Cambridge, Belmont, and Watertown.

The Massachusetts House of Representatives has already voted for this bill by 120-36. I expect the Senate to take it up and I hope we are able to give it a similar strong endorsement and send it to the Governor’s desk.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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107 Comments

    1. Will, I appreciate that you allowed everyone to review your vote and to comment on it. IMHO, too many legislators at all levels of government make that effort. Heck, do you plan to run for governor? 🙂

  1. Will,
    I totally support this long overdue change to allow undocumented residents to be eligible for a drivers license. It’s good for society – for all of us – if all our people can thrive and be successful in their livilihoods. Thank you for your vote on this.

  2. My son, who had issues with another state so his MA license was revoked. He took care of the issue with CT but after 3 hearings with MA RMV they still will not grant him his license. Every hearing its something else he need’s to show.
    Now you want to give ILLEGAL residents a license when my naturalized citizen son is being given the run around. BS

    1. agreed, also I was hit by an illegal alien – undocumented who slammed into me and they had NO insurance!!!! show pro0f of insurance and they need to pay for a whole year.
      our Veterans and USA citizens come first period

      1. Marcia, I hope you had no personal damage! I don’t think allowing any type of alien to get a license will necessarily make them buy auto insurance. There’s always the outlier, whether a citizen or alien, who risks everything by driving without insurance. Did or do you have an insurance policy for under-insured motorists?

  3. A thoughtful approach that responds in a sensible way to the concerns people might otherwise have about, e.g., using the license to register to vote, etc. I hope this measure is adopted. It will make all of us safer on the roads.

  4. Honest question can undocumented immigrants obtain auto insurance? I agree on immigration being federal jurisdiction but my biggest concern is their ability to obtain auto insurance.

  5. I am concerned only with the issue of giving any immigrant, here legally or not, a driver’s license without knowing if they can speak and read English.

    1. In some ways it is the the law – the department of transportation requires those with a cdl ( commercial driver’s license) be able to read english

      Of course this is mass RMV we are talking about which sadly has a very poor track record

    2. They already drive with licenses from another country for years and in most of the cases yes they don’t speak English

  6. I agree that this change to allow immigrants without legal status to acquire driving licenses makes sense with provisions that satisfactorily address reasonable objections. The failure of the RMV to treat legal residents and citizens properly and sensibly is appalling and must be corrected but is not a justification for blocking a positive change.

  7. Thank you for supporting this! I agree that is the right thing to do and I appreciate you taking this position.

  8. I support this policy, people should not have to live in constant fear. Really the US should issue enough work visas so that everyone for whose work there is demand can live here legally, covered by labor and civil laws, but too many economic interests benefit from keeping an unregistered work force, this measure on licenses helps.

  9. It seems to me, given the elaboration you have provided about its limits in terms of being federal ID and use for voting, that you want to create an illegal resident card with driving rights that will give police and others a clear indication of the lack of legal status of the user. Sounds good to me.

    1. I agree as well – sadly the RMV needs less work until they cay actually operate without a scandals ( like issuing drivers license with out a road test or maybe until they can stop taking bribes as just a matter of daily business)

    2. I don’t feel this is accurate, Harvey. I’m a natural-born US citizen, and when I moved from my home state of NH here to MA, I didn’t have the relevant paperwork with me to get a real ID, and frankly, it didn’t matter to me. I have a valid MA driver’s license marked “Not for federal ID,” and simply use my passport to fly domestically and for anything else that my license won’t hack it for. Also it’s troubling to me that you take such glee in suggesting that the presence or absence of someone’s documentation should be public knowledge like this. I think the US should fundamentally rethink its immigration policy, but as Sen. Brownsberger says, that’s not up to the MA legislature, but the maintenance of a safe licensure system for drivers is.

  10. My gut feeling is this is another end-run against properly addressing the gross exploitation of our guest workers and properly welcoming people into the American fold. I believe this is well-intentioned, but the structure of our political system and education system allows for feel good populism that papers over problems. Maybe this is moving the ball forward, idk… need to read. Going to work. Just want to record my gut thought.

    1. That’s a fair point. The purpose of this policy change, as I understand it, is less about decreasing unfairness for undocumented immigrants and more about increasing road safety and reducing the market for fake IDs. Which is still a positive change!

    2. Hi Fred H,
      Your point is valid, but this is a a reform that immigrants’ organizations such as Cosecha have prioritized and advocated for for a long time now — so while nowhere near adequate, it does feel like a meaningful step

  11. Will, I am proud of you for supporting this necessary change.
    For those who do not support it, perhaps they should instead say thank you to the thousands of immigrants who pay into social security and will never collect a cent.

    1. To me, illegal is still illegal, and if they don’t have an SSI number, I don’t know how they could be paying withholding like you and me?
      Question: If an undocumented person with a license were to be pulled over by the police for a violation, what should the police officer do? Give them the appropriate fine, and let them in their way, or arrest them and report them to ICE to be deported?
      Do we think this will welcome more into MA, and create a new level of “2nd class citizen”?

  12. What on earth is wrong with our state legislature? This is a horrible idea. A drivers license is a gateway identifier to access many other privileges that should not be granted to any person who has unlawfully entered our country. They should not be granted any form of state license or ID. All this does is to further enable them take jobs and much needed aide and resources away from those in need who abide by our laws. Supporting and encouraging their unlawful behavior only raises our already too high state taxes, impacts our schools, overflows our courts, and degrades every aspect of our lives. It is wrong no matter how you try to justify it There is a process to enter our country so criminal elements can be vetted. Follow it like the majority of the wonderful immigrants who have come to this country like my own family.

      1. I worry that a lot of documents presented will be fake. There must be some international driver’s license in lieu of a MA license. I hope these people are paying income taxes. They’re probably earning money under the table and collecting from the government at the same time. I lived abroad for a short time and am aware how other countries treat foreigners. This country is just “walk right in and set right down.” People should be seriously vetted. I’d be glad if they pay car insurance so we don’t all pay so much for uninsured motorist. I would imagine most countries are strict about immigration as I experienced. I have a friend from a foreign country who applied the legal way to become a citizen and says she wishes she could get her money back from the lawyers who helped her. You’ll find some lawful immigrants who object. It’s just useless because this Commonwealth leans too far to the Left. Why become a citizen if you get endless freebies and rights?

        1. I think you are on to something. A foreign national drivers license – and made clear that the person is not a citizen – maybe the print should be in red – so it is clear they are not a citizen. Nothing wrong with this , in fact maybe it is a good idea , I just fear the RMV will not be able to handle this , just like most other issues they handle

  13. I understand the progressive case for this change (I’m only “liberal”) and the law enforcement case, but I do not agree with this change because it would make illegal immigration more appealing and validate illegal status. We have to get a handle on illegal immigration. This change would make it more difficult to do so.

    1. Don, one must realize that Will does not care one bit about any of that.
      Will is immune to facts and common sense.
      He does not know the meaning of the word illegal, or does not care.

      1. Dee … Will does care. He carefully weighs the pros and cons, and takes a position. I agree with him most of the time, but not on this one.

  14. Really hope this passes soon! Back in the before times, I used to phone bank for this bill. As a cyclist, I’m behind anything that increases road safety!

    1. How does an illegal alien buy auto insurance or get umbrella insurance, Kathryn?

      Ever thought of that?

      How reliable is a person who broke the laws of immigration and continues to?

      Will he flee back to his home country if he is on the hook for bodily or property damage?

      1. First of all, undocumented people can indeed get auto insurance, and it’s illegal to own or drive an uninsured car. A valid driver’s license is necessary in order to get insurance, so allowing immigrants to get licenses will probably increase the number of people driving who have insurance. If someone is so terrible and callous as to flee the country to avoid the consequences of causing damage/injury/death with a car, I doubt that not having a legitimate driver’s license would stop them from driving.

  15. Agree with you 100%, Will!

    I observe that this also might make life easier for those who are US citizens but might have mislaid their birth certificate or other documents.

  16. Will; What won’t you do for criminals? You are appalling. How about for once YOU take PERSONAL responsibility for your ridiculous policy recommendations. When, as is soon inevitable, one of these “licensed” criminals kills an innocent MA resident, often children, we prosecute YOU as an accessory to the crime. This is all about your craven desire for a large base of government dependents to vote for you and the rest of your debased colleagues. These policies are a magnet for undesirables to come to our state.

    1. I fully agree with you, Jon. We should not give drivers’ licenses to illegal aliens. And we should stop calling them “undocumented migrants”. They are neither. This from a former legal alien, now proudly naturalized US citizen.

      The slippery slope is here and in progress. First allow these illegal aliens to remain here, then give them drivers’ licenses, allow them to vote locally, then nationally, and so on. If these delinquents were not Democrats voters, you could see a border wall from outer space.

      1. I will add one thing. I once called Will directly from the Customs and Immigration line at Logan and asked him if the immigration laws their applied to me, a 50 year MA taxpayer/citizen. Answer of course is YES. Keep that in mind. Will is advocating that we selectively enable criminals to violate THE VERY SAME LAWS that are broadly and meticulously enforced on taxpayers and the law abiding. If you don’t believe me on your next arrival just try to trot pass that army of troops at Logan. YOU will be arrested and vigorously prosecuted.

        Don’t expect to see Will here explaining why the laws only apply if you are a citizen and a taxpayer.

          1. Who said, “all politics is local?” – kidding. it may not change enforcement of immigration laws, but good and bad effects can trickle upward and popular measures accrue to the benefit of whichever national party.

            I am having trouble reconciling how we can make moral decisions on the micro scale, but are liberated from morality on a macro scale (if that’s not a myth too). And even if inconsistent American morality morality is a myth is it not a North Star? The tension between motivated self interest and a deep morality. Is not a complete sentence.

            I understand not following illegal orders. Many people break laws from time to time, but this is legislation that exists in defiance of the word of law. It opposes the meaning of words and of law. As righteous as this is on a human level will this in the long run deliver a greater justice or a lesser one? I really don’t know.

            Everyone deserves opportunity, but we are so corrupted by cheap labor and a consumption-driven economy that I don’t know if a certain level of denial and moral corruption in the Fustian sense is as invisible as the water is to fish ( myth also?) Another example of moral absenteeism in all walks of leadership is illegal drugs. (Alcohol is way more harmful than most) I think that drugs should probably be legal, and deviance, disorder, and abuse is a medical issue that leads to non medical issues. BUT, I also believe that every dime a drug consumer spends is an essential and moral link to the blood shed and countries ravaged into narco states. There should not be a stigma for using drugs as a sickness, but there should absolutely be a nationwide recognition that there is no moral absolution just because you’re a drop in the ocean. That’s why it’s logical that drugs should be produced blood free. What’s that quote from The Wire?

            I admit I don’t know many details about this issue. What are the assumptions and fact that Lawmakers referred to? Can I see them? How many people who with passage of this legislation get a license?How many people are deterred from driving/ drive anyway? How many have non-expired passports or the first category of documents? How many unlicensed people who are not here legally drive and how many more will take to the road?

            1. And speaking of morality, most public officials don’t document their bribe-taking, but Attorney General Maura Healey and AsG of a small number of states have put their pen to this perversion of justice. If you know our AG, or people in the affected states, please ask them to beg out of being the Sacklers’ benefactor. The Sacklers’ crime was firsrt a greed that led to mass manslaughter, but with time, knowledge their crime can only be considered mass murder. I want our nation’s AsG to FIGHT and nor roll over. They should FIGHT to put the Sacklers behind bars AND FIGHT for damage exceeding the infamous settlement.

          2. Who said, “all politics is local?” – kidding. it may not change enforcement of immigration laws, but good and bad effects can trickle upward and popular measures accrue to the benefit of whichever national party.

            I am having trouble reconciling how we can make moral decisions on the micro scale, but are liberated from morality on a macro scale (if that’s not a myth too). And even if inconsistent American morality morality is a myth is it not a North Star? The tension between motivated self interest and a deep morality. Is not a complete sentence.

            I understand not following illegal orders. Many people break laws from time to time, but this is legislation that exists in defiance of the word of law. It opposes the meaning of words and of law. As righteous as this is on a human level will this in the long run deliver a greater justice or a lesser one? I really don’t know.

            Everyone deserves opportunity, but we are so corrupted by cheap labor and a consumption-driven economy that I don’t know if a certain level of denial and moral corruption in the Fustian sense is as invisible as the water is to fish ( myth also?) Another example of moral absenteeism in all walks of leadership is illegal drugs. (Alcohol is way more harmful than most) I think that drugs should probably be legal, and deviance, disorder, and abuse is a medical issue that leads to non medical issues. BUT, I also believe that every dime a drug consumer spends is an essential and moral link to the blood shed and countries ravaged into narco states. There should not be a stigma for using drugs as a sickness, but there should absolutely be a nationwide recognition that there is no moral absolution just because you’re a drop in the ocean. That’s why it’s logical that drugs should be produced blood free. What’s that quote from The Wire?

            I admit I don’t know many details about this issue. What are the assumptions and fact that Lawmakers referred to? Can I see them? How many people who with passage of this legislation get a license?How many people are deterred from driving/ drive anyway? How many have non-expired passports or the first category of documents? How many unlicensed people who are not here legally drive and how many more will take to the road? I mean I’m in favor of helping people who have made America a better place.

          3. Immigration laws are not being enforced anyways, particularly in Massachusetts; modest sample of sanctuaries among us:

            Massachusetts:
            Amherst
            Boston
            Cambridge
            Concord
            Lawrence
            Newton
            Northhampton
            Somerville

          4. Why does the Current law provides that “No [driver’s] license of any type may be issued to any person who does not have lawful presence in the United States.“?

  17. Let me try again. It seems to me with the restrictions to avoid use of the license as a federal ID and for voting that you are creating a card showing the illegal status of the holder that anybody looking at the card can see—police officer, store clerk. As an advocate for legal immigration, this seems like a good idea.

  18. Don’t Give Driver’s Licenses to Illegal Immigrants
    If we allow illegal immigrants to stay, it will make it easier for them to work and take jobs from my brothers and many Americans.
    If they want to come here and work, they should apply for citizenship legally or a green card and get a valid Social Security number.
    You say the voter registration policy has a year to be changed. Is that enough time and assurances to ensure our most sacred right stays above reproach.
    Giving driver’s licenses to illegals makes us look really, really foolish in supporting illegal activity and sends the wrong message.
    This program supports additional illegal immigration. We can limit entry to persons from countries afflicted with the coronavirus. But we can’t do the same thing with illegal immigrants who come across the Southern border.
    ICE will be hamstrung as there will be a stampede at our border from Mexico and Central America.
    Some questions for you.
    Why do illegals deserve immunity from fear for breaking the law when I don’t get the same break?
    Can the state government issue legal documents which fundamentally legitimize illegal behavior?
    Will illegals be able to use their driver’s license to escape ICE?
    Will illegals with a DUI conviction be able to get a driver’s license?
    How will you prevent license fraud through the use of false identification documents?
    And, the most important question – Why pass this bill if you don’t have a process that will prevent illegals with driver’s licenses from voting? Let’s see the fool proof process first.

    1. “– Why pass this bill if you don’t have a process that will prevent illegals with driver’s licenses from voting? Let’s see the fool proof process first.”

      There IS a process to prevent non-citizens from using their drivers license from voting. Read the post.

    2. Hi Jim,

      Will does not care about any of that and won’t reply to you.

      He doesn’t have to and he gets reelected anyway.

  19. Strongly support. This will help ensure ALL drivers are properly trained and ALL bad drivers are tracked. To the person concerned about a licensed criminal killing someone, most murders in the US are committed by US citizens and most of them certainly have valid drivers licenses (since most murders are committed by adults and most US adults have drivers licenses.) This bill concerns drivers licenses, which are required for public safety and for many jobs, not gun licenses!

  20. I support this bill. Safety on our roads is paramount. Your argument is well presented, Will.

  21. Absurd.

    Will does not care about the meaning of the word “illegal.”

    How will the illegal immigrant buy a car or get insurance unless he has an *illegal* job?

    And who is going to sell insurance to an illegal alien anyway? They don’t even have valid residences.

    Can he get a bank account if he does not have a social security number or other proof of residence?

    How does he pay taxes on his salary or interest from his account unless he has fake IDs? Or don’t you care?

    In other words, the illegal is engaged in all sort of other illegalities.

    What Will does not know or care about is that an illegal immigrant who gets into an accident even with insurance often flees back to his home country to avoid prosecution and liability.
    I have seen this. Is this a concern? Not to Will.

    Moreover, the registry of motor vehicles is incompetent to decide who is or who is not eligible to be a voter and convey that to cities and towns. It’s a bureaucratic mess at the registry and we all know about the scandals there. They even give out licenses without a road test, and then when they send out notices to people who did not get a required road test, they send it to people who DID get a road test.

    The bottom line is that Will is OK with illegal immigration.

    Will, how about the millions of illegals coming over the southern border ahead of people who have applied legally?

    Will says, “Ho Hum. Don’t bother me with facts.”

  22. Approving this bill opens a can of worms that will lead to more voter fraud. There will be more uninsured drivers on the rode. The scam is to buy a car, and pay one month of insurance, then let it lapse.

  23. What changes, if any, have occurred in states that issue licenses to illegal immigrants? No way should the MA RMV be trusted in this process. It probably will not change much at all as the odds of getting caught driving without a license are low. Many illegal immigrants have limited assets so why would they purchase car insurance?

  24. Thanks for your thoughtful exploration of the subject.
    I agree with your conclusion and would ad that it would be an incentive to all those good people who are trying to be a productive member of society but perhaps have not yet achieved “legal” status.
    For instance, perhaps their status is in limbo though no fault of their own. Perhaps they need a job that requires a license and the $’s from this job will help pay for the successful legal status.
    Sure we could focus on trying to make things harder for people as a way to enforce the law. But we could also make it easier for good people to become legal under the law.

  25. Citizenship has it’s privileges. In my opinion, people who are here illegally should not be rewarded with a driver’s license.

  26. Yes on drivers licenses for all adults living here with what ever circumstance.

    Yes, the DMV has a history of poor management. One could list a transit agency and a parks agency too. When will management, excellent management, be a signature of good government in Massachusetts?

  27. I fully agree with you, Jon. We should not give drivers’ licenses to illegal aliens. And we should stop calling them “undocumented migrants”. They are neither. This from a former legal alien, now proudly naturalized US citizen.

    The slippery slope is here and in progress. First allow these illegal aliens to remain here, then give them drivers’ licenses, allow them to vote locally, then nationally, and so on. If these delinquents were not Democrats voters, you could see a border wall from outer space.

  28. This is ridiculous in concept and measure. Insurance and liability alone but for those who follow laws and legalities as such that this is even being considered is unbelievable. “It is not the concern of state and local government”??? The heck it isn’t. What type of leadership is this? Another step backwards. You absolutely do not have my vote.

  29. I appreciate your thoughtful rationale. I teach ESL & am teaching at community colleges; I hear students personal journeys to US. I am Against the change. My rationale is that legal immigration & people applying for status through legal processes are doing so at great cost-& so providing licenses to those that are illegal is nonsensical & absolutely devalues our system of people applying legitimately. By providing licenses to illegals -it not only diminishes value of those doing the right thing-it gives zero incentive to do so. I am against this change & Hope that Senator will reconsider his position.

  30. It’ s good to see that the new proposed law is written in a way that it has receive endorsement from many law enforcement officers and it is deemed to make their job easier. I support your position.

  31. American citizenship used to be regarded as precious, but now our rights and privileges are being weakened and debased by being handed out to people who violated our laws the second they crossed our border. Will the new law expressly prohibit Mass. cities and towns from granting “resident” illegals the right to vote locally, as is happening in New York City, San Francisco and elsewhere? If not, Democrats will rule forever—-which is obviously the Left’s intent in aiding and abetting millions of unskilled illiterates to invade our country. I hope Gov. Baker vetoes this bill.

  32. Will, I vigorously disagree with the motion to change the law. It was written that way for a very good reason. I object to illegal immigration on all counts, and maintain that anyone that entered this country without property authority be prohibited from receiving ANY type of benefit, financial or otherwise. Politicians are playing with taxpayer’s money as though it is theirs.

    1. Will does not call it illegal immigration – he calls it immigration.

      Our Senator is not being honest.

  33. I disagree with the change. If they have no regard for the law when they come into the country, what makes you think they will abide by any of our laws that they find inconvenient. Simply because the get a legal license does not guarantee they will maintain the insurance once they register the car or that they will abide by the law when driving.

  34. Will if the RMV had a good history of doing almost anything I would support it. However they were giving out licenses with out prior proof of who you were , which is why I (and everyone else ) had to go through and properly show ID – which I had done when I applied for my learners permit back in the ’70 ‘s .

    We just had an issue where people were issued licenses without road tests

    People have been buying favors at the registry as matter of everyday business

    Will , Sadly I must disagree with you – maybe after they five years without some sort of scandal we can revisit it

  35. I have to applaud the fortitude of the RMV employee who stuck to her guns when a translator for a woman kept insisting and badgering the employee that he take her eye exam for the applicant. Such patience.

    Trying to compare the bill and the current law line by line. I like it more on a human level- If you believe that justice can be imperfect and had in measures.

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