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Activists Call for State to Issue Driver's Licenses to Undocumented Immigrants

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State lawmakers are considering a bill to allow anyone, regardless of immigration status, to apply for a Massachusetts driver’s license. Proponents on the South Coast say the measure would generate millions of dollars of state revenue from license fees, and it would improve public safety by ensuring that more Massachusetts drivers are officially licensed.

David Rolando Oliva, an activist with Movimiento Cosecha in New Bedford, said the measure is long overdue in Massachusetts. “If we already have 17 states that have approved this law, why is there such negativity here, especially in such a democratic state?” asked Oliva.

He added that the law would also keep families together and reduce deportations. “We know that people are driving every day with the fear that police will stop them. Many families have been separated because they were caught driving without a license.”

Similar bills have stalled in prior legislative sessions. This time, advocates are hopeful for its passage, as a majority of state lawmakers have voiced support for the bill. It also has the support of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police Association.

“Working with immigrants in my district, this is the number one issue that I hear about,” said Rep. Christine Barber, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “These are folks in our community who drive to get to work, drive their kids to school or the doctor. It would allow people to drive safely and follow the rules.”

The bill is currently in the Joint Committee on Transportation. It would likely need a veto-proof majority in the legislature, as Governor Charlie Baker has previously opposed similar measures.