Testimony by Monique Ching, Senior Policy Analyst at the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, for the Health Equity Task Force public hearing on February 8, 2021.
Members of the Health Equity Task Force, thank you for the opportunity to speak today about An Act Relative to Work and Family Mobility During and Subsequent to the COVID-19 Emergency (HD.448/SD.273).
My name is Monique Ching and I am a Senior Policy Analyst at the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, a nonpartisan research organization that focuses on state fiscal and economic policy.
Imagine, for a moment, that you do not have a driver’s license and you cannot get one because you don’t have valid immigration status. Imagine, now, that your employer has been withholding your wages during COVID-19.
You are afraid to report it to law enforcement, because you are terrified they will take your children away and deport you. Your options for finding another job are limited because you cannot legally drive. You are stuck.
In a 2018 national survey, 71 percent of law enforcement officers said that when immigrant survivors of crime and those with limited English lacked trust in police, it made their jobs more difficult. Disturbingly, this fear is especially prevalent among survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking.1
Driver’s licenses are not only about the ability to get behind the wheel – they represent access to health and safety, to economic opportunity, and to fair treatment.
Health and safety
In terms of health and safety, put yourself again in the shoes of our worker. Say that you are worried you might have COVID, but there are no testing sites within walking distance.
In a moment of desperation, you get behind the wheel to drive to a testing site. You get pulled over because of a broken taillight.
The officer might spend hours detaining you – a worker who is not a threat to public safety.
A California police chief noted that officers can spend two or three hours confirming the identity of someone without status.2 Similarly, Washington State police reported that arresting people with suspended driver’s licenses took about nine hours of an officer’s time.3
You can see how this might incentivize our worker not to stick around if they were to get into a fender bender. When California began licensing drivers without immigrant status, not-at-fault drivers in that state avoided a total $3.5 million per year in out-of-pocket expenses for car repairs.4
Looking at economic opportunity, we know that access to driving dictates one’s access to good jobs and basic needs. This is even truer as we face public transit cuts during COVID.
Getting a driver’s license can help boost a worker’s earning potential and we have a lot of untapped potential in this state. About 1 in 3 Massachusetts adults without status holds a bachelor’s degree or higher.5 Boosting their earnings could provide them with more income to spend in the local economy.
On top of these individual benefits, newly licensed drivers could generate about $5 million per year in additional tax revenue just from car-related purchases and motor fuel taxes.6
A common-sense policy choice
Allowing all drivers to obtain state licenses, regardless of immigration status, is a common-sense policy that 16 states, Puerto Rico, and D.C. have chosen to adopt.7 The longer we put off this choice, the more we are putting the health and safety of all our residents – citizen or not – at risk.
We respectfully ask that the Health Equity Task Force recommend that the Legislature act quickly to consider and pass the Work and Family Mobility Act this session.
Thank you for your consideration.
Senior Policy Analyst
Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center
2 National Immigration Law Center, “Why it Makes Law Enforcement Sense for All California Drivers to be Eligible for Driver’s Licenses,” (August 2013), https://www.nilc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/CA-DLs-law-enforcement-sense.pdf
3 Andrea M. Marsh, “2017 Trends in State Courts – Rethinking Driver’s License Suspensions for Nonpayment of Fines and Fees”, National Center for State Courts (2017), p. 23, https://ncsc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/accessfair/id/787/
4 Hans Lueders et al., “Providing driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants in California improves traffic safety,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (April 18, 2017), p.4115, https://www.pnas.org/content/114/16/4111
6 Monique Ching, “Driver’s licenses for immigrants without status – how would it affect Massachusetts?” (2020), p.8, https://www.massbudget.org/reports/pdf/DriversLic4briefs_FINAL.pdf
7 National Immigration Law Center, “State Laws Providing Access to Driver’s Licenses or Cards, Regardless of Immigration Status,” (April 2020) https://www.nilc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/drivers-license-access-table.pdf