Permit scheme for undocumented drivers curbs accountability

In 1995, more than 130,000 refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina resettled in the United States. Welcoming them at ports of entry and at refugee resettlement agencies were dozens of specially trained immigration officers, myself included.

Our mission was twofold: to expedite the resettlement of war victims and to arrest bad actors who would take advantage of our nation’s kindness to enter illegally, create false identities and escape their crimes.

Confirming an immigrant’s identity is not an easy task. Who could spot a real or fake foreign birth certificate or passport? Who can stay ahead of counterfeiters as design and printing technology evolves?

These questions deserve to be raised now, not only as we prepare to welcome Ukrainian refugees, but also as the State Senate considers legislation to provide Massachusetts driver’s licenses to “persons who do not provide proof of legal presence”.

The bill passed the House in February. I agree with Governor Baker, who has expressed serious concern about the loopholes that allow voter registration by non-citizens. We prefer current state law that requires “proof of legal presence.”

If this law is passed, the driver’s license will no longer have any value as a reliable form of identification. It will be useless in everything from registering to vote, opening a bank account, buying alcohol or recreational marijuana, using credit cards, enrolling in college and applying for government benefits.

A driver’s license will simply mean that the person in the photo is the same person who passed the written and road tests. Perhaps. The RMV recently admitted to issuing 2,100 permits without a road test.

The bill entrusts the RMV with validating the foreign identity documents of applicants for illegal immigration. RMV employees will inspect foreign documents and translations to try to determine the person’s identity. What could go wrong?

Without an ounce of irony, this is the same RMV called a “bureaucratic nightmare” and a “total calamity” by lawmakers who support this bill. Sponsors say licensing illegal immigrants will make roads safer and reduce the number of hit-and-run accidents. It may be good for the insurance industry, but it won’t reduce the actual number of accidents and it opens the door to serious fraud.

As a candidate for state auditor, I am particularly concerned that the bill will impede meaningful oversight of the RMV by state auditors or law enforcement. The legislation states that “In processing an application for a Massachusetts license pursuant to this section, the Registrar shall not investigate or create a record of an applicant’s citizenship or immigration status.” Information provided by an applicant would be exempt from disclosure, except “to the extent permitted by regulations promulgated by the Attorney General.”

This means that there will be no counting of the number of illegal immigrants who receive licenses. And it would appear to be very difficult for the state auditor or law enforcement to verify whether the RMV was successful in verifying the true identity of the applicants or whether fraud took place. Finally, if RMV employees are unable to question citizenship, it is unclear how non-citizens will be prevented from registering to vote.

As someone who has worked with many refugees and immigrants – legal and illegal – I am acutely aware of the important role immigrants have played in our American history. Indeed, few of us can count multiple generations between us and when our ancestors arrived in the United States. Our state government owes all of its residents the guarantee of an identification system rooted in trust and integrity.

Anthony Amore of Winchester is running for the position of Massachusetts State Auditor.

Milton S. Rodgers