Advocates Condemn Law on Immigration Status Checks at Registry of Motor Vehicles

Legislature overrides Governor's veto, establishing unprecedented state interference with private property ownership

July 31, 2012 BOSTON — Last night the Senate voted 24 -10 to override Governor Deval Patrick's veto of a provision in the state budget that would require vehicle registration applicants to show "proof of legal residence." Earlier in the day, the House also voted 134-19 to override the Governor's veto, despite the Governor's concern, voiced in the State House News, that, "without a legitimate public safety purpose, this bill appears to be aimed at using the RMV to identify and police undocumented people." During the debate, Representative Daniel Webster boasted that the provision would put Massachusetts in league with states like Arizona, which seek to fight immigration battles on their own.

Throughout Massachusetts, the provision was condemned by immigrant advocates, clergy, legal experts, and legislators concerned with the well-being of their immigrant constituents. For the first time in Massachusetts, it makes vehicle ownership contingent on federal immigration status, to be monitored by a state agency. Despite proponents' claims that the measure was motivated by public safety concerns, the ill-conceived language would require documents unrelated to eligibility to drive. These requirements clearly target immigrants, potentially including those eligible to drive in Massachusetts, for no legitimate public safety rationale. Besides increasing wait times at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Transportation estimates the provision will cost at least a million dollars to implement.

"Our union represents immigrants from all over the world," said Rocio Saenz, President of SEIU 615. "These workers will now find it much more difficult to simply own a car in this state, which many of them need to put food on the table for their families. We believe the Governor acted wisely in vetoing this provision, and we are deeply concerned with the drift this represents toward Arizona-style 'attrition through enforcement' laws."

"Massachusetts has taken a big step backward with this law, increasing the fear and worry of many immigrants who already feel the chill of anti-immigrant sentiments in this state," said Josimar Salum Gouvea, Co-Chair of Brazilian Ministers Network, Manifesting Unity through Relationships. "Our legislators have given in to the urge to scapegoat people for their immigration status, which will only increase the prejudice toward people who speak another language or belong to another race or religion. Instead of a solution, this provision provides persecution."

"This law will only make immigrant workers more exploitable by unscrupulous employers," said Diego Low, of the MetroWest Workers' Center. "Now, these employers will have control over the transportation of workers, as well as so many other aspects of their lives. Instead of increasing public safety, these enforcement measures simply deepen the lawlessness of a shadow economy that hurts native-born as well as immigrant workers."

"By adopting this divisive provision, the legislature missed its duty to represent all state residents," said Senator Jamie Eldridge. "Massachusetts state agencies shouldn't be put be in the place of having to implement or enforce federal immigration laws, which is what this law unfortunately would do."

"We thank the Governor for his wise decision to veto this reckless measure, and we also thank those legislators who courageously stood up for what was right by voting to sustain his veto," said Marcony Almeida, Director of Organizing at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. "We are deeply disappointed by the decision of the legislators to override. We will continue to educate legislators about the way these measures harm the foreign-born and damage relations among all state residents. And we will continue to work toward permitting all residents at least 16 years of age to apply for driver's licenses, a measure that would truly increase public safety, and the public good."