Question 4: Driver's Licenses for Unauthorized Immigrants

Earlier this year, Massachusetts legislators passed a law allowing unauthorized immigrants to apply for state-issued driver’s licenses.

Now, with Ballot Question 4, voters are being asked to either affirm or annul the law before it can take effect.

At its core, Question 4 is about the rights we afford to unauthorized immigrants living in our state. What kinds of support and recognition should they receive? And what aspects of American life should be preserved for citizens and legal residents?

Currently in Massachusetts, unauthorized immigrants can attend public schools, obtain free school meals, receive some housing assistance, and qualify for public health services like vaccinations. But they are not allowed to vote, claim unemployment benefits, or participate in many federal programs like Medicaid or food stamps.

Question 4 lets voters decide where driver’s licenses fit in this broader picture, weighing issues like the safety of our transportation system and the impact on immigrants’ daily lives.

As part of our commitment to help voters understand state ballot questions, we have examined the text of this new law, reviewed relevant research, and spoken with experts and advocates on both sides of the issue.

We found that:

  • Offering licenses to unauthorized immigrants will encourage them to purchase cars, get insurance, and receive the training needed to pass a road test. What is more, it will reduce pressure to avoid police and publicly safety officers out of fear that simple traffic enforcement could lead to deportation.
  • State-issued driver’s licenses would not alter people’s immigration status or expand access to other benefits. However, they would offer some new legitimacy to unauthorized immigrants. Whether this is appropriate is a major part of what voters are being asked to decide.
  • While questions have been raised about the technical challenges of offering driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants, Massachusetts should be able to accomplish this in a way that sufficiently verifies a person’s identity and prevents any accidental voter registration, just as 16 other states already do.
  • Despite some safeguards, it’s still possible that a program of licenses for unauthorized immigrants could be used to identify and track people in future.