Question 4: Road safety or immigrant rights?

Ballot Question 4 asks whether the state should repeal a new law allowing noncitizens to obtain a driver’s license

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Cade Belisle/ Daily Collegian (2014)

By Sophie Hauck, Collegian Staff

As Election Day approaches, Massachusetts voters consider Question 4, which asks whether the state should repeal a new law allowing noncitizens to obtain a driver’s license. Voting “yes” upholds the law, while a “no” vote overturns the law.

Immigrant activist groups have advocated to expand Massachusetts driver’s license eligibility for decades. Their efforts culminated in the Work and Family Mobility Act, a bill authorizing licenses for undocumented residents. The state legislature passed the bill into law on June 9, overriding Governor Charlie Baker’s veto of the proposed legislation.

“This piece of legislation is something that will assist working families in being able to get to work and fulfill their responsibilities,” said state Sen. Diana DiZoglio, who voted in support of the proposal. “We need to make sure that all working families are able to get to work, get to their healthcare appointments and be able to become educated and get the resources they need.”

On June 13, opponents of the law filed for a referendum to overturn the legislation, forming the Fair and Secure Massachusetts committee. The group certified the number of signatures necessary to appear on the ballot in early September, creating the fourth and final question on the statewide ballot.

“Giving driver’s licenses to people who are living here without legal status fundamentally undermines the rule of law in our country and would make our state a magnet for such behaviors,” wrote Maureen Maloney, chair of the Fair and Secure Massachusetts committee, in a letter to the Berkshire Eagle. “It’s unfair and insulting to the millions of legal immigrants that took the time and effort to go through the proper channels to come here.”

Maloney raised the sticking point on Question 4, asking whether expanding access to driver’s licenses is a matter of public safety or immigrant rights. State Sen. Brendan Crighton argues the former.

“This has nothing to do with immigration,” Crighton said in a GBH debate on Question 4. “It’s about making our roads safer, making sure that everybody has to pass a road test and vision test and get insurance to get a license in the Commonwealth.”

States that passed similar legislation have seen a decline in hit-and-run accidents. University of Massachusetts journalism professor Razvan Sibii said that framing Question 4 as a road safety measure was a “strategic choice.”

“Somebody decided that empathy with undocumented immigrants is not necessarily going to carry the day, whereas road safety, which impacts all of us, might,” Sibii said. “If you can make people feel like this impacts them directly, then yes, of course that is more likely to make them care.”

Shel Horowitz, a member of the Western Massachusetts Jewish Activists for Immigration, identified his Jewish heritage as a personal connection to Question 4.

“We had this thing called the Holocaust, where many people were persecuted and killed for the quote unquote crime of being Jewish,” Horowitz said. “So that, we feel, gives us a special urgency in confronting the oppressions that we see.”

Sibii noted that Question 4 will not be universally liked by immigrants.

“Documented immigrants need to be convinced that undocumented immigrants should have rights,” Sibii said. “There’s a strong current among documented immigrants that says, ‘Well, they should do it legally like I did.’”

“I grew up in an immigrant family, so I’m pretty familiar with that story,” said Paul Craney, a spokesperson for Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “That’s a debate that should be done in the context of federal immigration reform.”

Craney is concerned that the Registry of Motor Vehicles is unequipped to process the foreign documents necessary for verifying noncitizens’ identities.

“Do we ask the Registry of Motor Vehicles to be able to process anywhere from 150,000 to 250,000 illegal immigrants in our state so they can get driver’s licenses?” Craney asked. “Common sense tells you our RMV is not capable of that, nor should they be asked to do that.”

“We’re kind of putting the cart before the horse because our state leaders desire more immigration, in this case, illegal immigration,” Craney said.

Advocates on both sides of the issue face concerns that Question 4 has limited name recognition. When Fair and Secure Massachusetts certified enough signatures to appear on the ballot, it was too late to include this question in the Secretary of State’s red voter guide, and the question appears on the backside or second page of the ballot.

“A significant number might not actually flip the page over,” Sibii said. “These things about positioning on the ballot are always a concern.”

“I do find those red books are pretty helpful for making your point,” Craney said. “But you know voters, they have a way of finding this information on their own.”

Early voting is happening now and ends on Nov. 4. Election Day is on Nov. 8. Find your polling location at https://www.sec.state.ma.us/WhereDoIVoteMA/WhereDoIVote.

 Sophie Hauck can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @SophieBHauck.