Massachusetts Senate Attempts to Stop Illegal Alien Access to Driver's Licenses

By Janice Kephart on May 30, 2012

According to an article in the Boston Globe, the Massachusetts Senate seems to be locking horns again with the state's traditionally more liberal House over illegal immigration. The House for years has leaned toward supporting illegal immigration, and the state has not complied with federal driver's license standards or required verification that people are authorized to work. Some of that was challenged late last week when the Massachusetts Senate approved a $32.4 billion budget that:

includes a requirement that companies doing business with the state use a federal database to verify the immigration status of their employees. The measure also includes new checks and stiffer criminal penalties aimed at preventing illegal immigrants from getting driver's licenses or public housing. ...

Proponents said the tougher Senate measure will ensure that federal immigration law is enforced, tax dollars are not used to propagate illegal immigration, and that legal residents are not unfairly denied state services.

The Globe quoted Richard Moore, an Uxbridge Democrat supporting the new budget provisions: "It is not meant to hurt people who are following the law. It is meant to enforce the law."

Moore's comment aligns with comments from 2003, when soon-to-be Republican presidential candidate and then-governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, said this:

Those who are here illegally should not receive tacit support from our government that gives an indication of legitimacy. If they are here illegally, they should not get driver's licenses.

But with the Obama administration putting pressure on localities to loosen support of immigration enforcement that had been methodically taking place before and immediately after 9/11, the state's politics swung again. In 2009, a police chief in suburban Massachusetts received a standing ovation for making a public statement that illegal aliens should get driver's licenses.

Meanwhile the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) was falling behind in implementing the REAL ID Act, which does not permit illegal aliens to receive a driver's license useful for federal purposes, such as boarding an airplane. (For an annual assessment of where states stand in implementing the REAL ID Act, see "REAL ID Implementation Annual Report: Major Progress Made in Securing Driver's License Issuance Against Identity Theft and Fraud".)

Today, Massachusetts is one of only five states not checking illegal alien status when processing driver's license applications, though that policy is set in statute in only two of those states (New Mexico and Washington). In other words, the Massachusetts RMV is not prevented by the legislature from checking illegal alien status, it just chose not to do so. The result was an increase in illegal alien activity in the state, including an upswing in crime because, unlike other states where legal status is methodically checked prior to license issuance, Massachusetts voluntarily chose to become a magnet for an illegal alien population seeking driver's licenses. Such checks are easy to do, take seconds, and are cheap. The queries are done through a federal database, the same one used for the worker authorization program E-Verify and immigration benefit requests.

Perhaps what pushed Massachusetts back to checking illegal status was the embarrassing April 2012 story of President's Obama's uncle, who had his license suspended for drunk driving and then went to court to get his license re-issued, despite a pending order of deportation. At that point, I was asked by local Fox reporters to explain the situation:

It will be interesting to see where this fight in Massachusetts will end up. If nothing else, the turmoil over state enforcement of immigration law has made its way to the RMV. A few years ago, when states were balking at the REAL ID law, the issue of illegal alien access to driver's licenses rarely arose. But now that states are implementing REAL ID and Massachusetts is feeling the squeeze from an uptick in illegal immigration like Maryland did a few years ago, emotions are surging over driver's licenses once more.