House panel passes immigrant driver’s license bill

  • This Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019 photo shows the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston. Using a different procedure, supporters of the so-called millionaire tax are again mounting an effort to put the proposed constitutional amendment before Massachusetts voters. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

  • Pioneer Valley Workers Center member Mr. Martinez, center, speaks in support of the Work and Family Mobility Act as PVWC organizer Gabriella della Croce, left, translates during a press conference at the center's office in Northampton on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. At right is PVWC staffer and former member Hodaliz Borrayez who also spoke during the conference.

Staff Writer
Published: 2/7/2020 12:06:25 AM
Modified: 2/7/2020 12:06:15 AM

NORTHAMPTON — In a big first step on its way to possibly becoming law, a bill that would give undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts the right to obtain a driver’s license made it out of committee on Wednesday.

State Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, who sits on the House Transportation Committee, described it an emotional day. Eleven volunteers with the group Movimiento Cosecha had launched a hunger strike on Monday in front of the State House in support of the bill, and Sabadosa and others on the committee went down to tell the activists that the committee had favorably reported the bill with only 20 minutes to spare before the deadline for passage.

“It’s exactly why you do this job — to actually help people and to give them hope,” she said.

The Work and Family Mobility Act has long been a priority for immigrant advocates in the state, who argue that the bill would provide some 185,000 immigrants the ability to go to work, school and elsewhere without fear. They also say the bill would improve road safety in the state, where immigrants would have to take road-safety and vision tests to receive their licenses.

A coalition of groups across the state known as Driving Families Forward has been pushing hard for the bill’s passage this year. The Pioneer Valley Workers Center is part of the coalition, and in an interview Thursday, Workers Center member Alondra Gomez said the bill would be a big improvement for undocumented families — particularly those with children.

“We’re happy for this new step,” Gomez said of the bill making it out of committee, adding that advocates would continue to fight for it to be passed into law. “It’s necessary to have a license.”

The bill still has a way to go. It must now pass in the state House and Senate before it heads to the desk of Gov. Charlie Baker, who has vowed to veto the legislation.

“We need to get a veto-proof vote for that, so that it can actually win,” said Rose Bookbinder, a co-director at the Workers Center. “Baker has continued to be on the wrong side of history here on many issues, from workers’ rights to immigrant rights.”

In the lead-up to Wednesday, activists created a campaign to build momentum behind The Work and Family Mobility Act. The Workers Center got some 160 local businesses and many elected officials to come out in support of the bill.

Bookbinder said that in the final hours before Wednesday’s deadline, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz and Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse put in phone calls to the chair of the Transportation Committee in support of the bill.

Workers Center co-director Andrea Schmid also noted Sabadosa’s strong support. She said Sabadosa was in communication with local activists throughout the process.

“This just goes to show how closely we’re working together, and how rooted she is in the issues of the organizing community here, and the immigrant and working communities here,” Schmid said.

When asked whether the bill will have enough support to override a likely Baker veto, Sabadosa said she was optimistic. She said it will take work to combat misinformation to bring more supporters on board.

Fourteen other states — including neighboring Connecticut, New York and Vermont — have similar laws already on the books.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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