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New law allows all immigrants to drive in Mass.

Amanda Brynn Birbara
New law allows all immigrants to drive in Mass.
Chrystel Murrieta Ruiz, co-chair of Driving Families Forward speaks to gathering. PHOTO: AMANDA BRYNN BIRBARA

It’s been a decades-long wait, but unauthorized immigrants in Massachusetts finally will be able to obtain driver’s licenses starting July 1.

Under the Work and Family Mobility Act that passed in May 2022, all state qualified residents can obtain a driver’s license, regardless of their immigration status, as of that date. The arrival of the effective date of the legislation has generated excitement in immigrant communities.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states and the District of Columbia have similar laws. Efforts to pass one in Massachusetts began in 1999.

“Having a license is not a luxury, but a necessity for many people in this country to survive and care for their families,” said Mayra Lopez.

“I cannot tell you the countless hours I have spent waiting on a bus that never shows,” she said. “I remember being afraid that my young kids would have their skin freeze when we ended up walking.”

Lopez has been waiting for July so that she can take further steps to help herself and her family.

Advocates gather in support of Work and Family Mobility Act. PHOTO: AMANDA BRYNN BIRBARA

“Knowing that my car will be insured, learning all the laws of the road, being sure that my car is legally registered takes a tremendous weight off my shoulders,” she said.

Lopez spoke during a news conference June 21 on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, where the Driving Families Forward Coalition brought together state leaders, transportation officials and advocates to answer questions and celebrate the implementation of the legislation.

Lenita Reason, co-chair of Driving Families Forward and executive director of the Brazilian Worker Center in Allston, said she understands the importance of the new law from personal experience.

In 2007, Reason immigrated from Brazil to the United States. She waited to get her papers until 2019. At that time she was raising her son, now 13, who needed medication. She said she would ask friends and co-workers to help her pick up the medication because she didn’t have a driver’s license to identify herself at the pharmacy.

When she told her son about the law after it passed, he said, “‘Mom, now my friend’s mom can be able to drive. I’m so happy.’”

Chrystel Murrieta Ruiz, co-chair of Driving Families Forward and political coordinator for SEIU 32BJ, said the response to the bill has been “overwhelming excitement and also curiosity.”

Affected residents have a lot of questions about how to get their driver’s license, she said.

To start the process, an individual needs to assemble a list of specific documents to present at the Registry of Motor Vehicles and make an appointment online. Ruiz said that people should go to the Massgov webpage dedicated to the Work and Family Mobility Act or contact Driving Families Forward for assistance.

Colleen Ogilvie, the registrar of motor vehicles, said that the driver’s manuals and other materials needed to pass the learner’s permit and road tests have been translated into 15 languages and that a language line in the contact center has been established for anyone who needs support.

The total cost to obtain the driver’s license without having to redo one of the two tests is $115, she said.

Beginning in August 2019, Julia Schlozman, an attorney with the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, helped to write and pass the legislation.

“Strong privacy protections” in the bill were a priority so that individuals’ information would not be shared with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Schlozman said.

Additionally, she said she worked with legislators to ensure that the description of the specific documents that individuals would need to present at the Registry to get their license would be both thoroughly verifiable by law enforcement and accessible to those applying.

Schlozman said the new law establishes these new driver’s licenses as indistinguishable from any other Massachusetts driver’s license, unlike the practice in some other states.

The licenses being identical, she said, can prevent a traffic stop from escalating into police calling federal immigration agents. “This way a broken tail light can stay a broken taillight,” she said.

The immigrant community has been working towards the Work and Family Mobility Act for more than 20 years, Ruiz said in her remarks.

“I’m so excited for July to come because it’s a new day for immigrants and the community,” Ruiz said.