NORTHAMPTON — Lorena Moreno of Springfield shook her head Tuesday at the notion that driving a car is a privilege.
“It’s a necessity,” she said. “If my child is sick. We’ll go to the doctor. If I need to get to work, I’ll drive to work. You can punish me afterword. But I’m going to do it.”
Moreno, who didn’t disclose her own immigration status, was among the immigrants, labor leaders and faith leaders gathered Tuesday at the Pioneer Valley Worker Center in Northampton supporting An Act Relative to Work and Family Mobility. It’s in the Massachusetts Legislature’s Transportation committee.
If passed, it would make Massachusetts the 15th state making drivers licenses available to undocumented immigrants. Supporters say it would improve public safety by making sure immigrant drivers are licensed, tested, insured and identifiable.
The proposed new law, Bills H.3012 and S.2061, was introduced by State Rep. Tricia Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield and other lawmakers.
New York and New Jersey recently enacted legislation.
Today, immigrants live in fear of being pulled over or getting in a wreck.
“It can start the path to deportation,” Moreno said. “Especially if you don’t have the money to pay the fine. How does that make you safer?”
It doesn’t, said Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper. She said its vital for police to identify people at traffic stops. They can’t do that if they are presented no documentation or documentation in a foreign tongue they can’t understand.
“You need to know who you are out there with,” she said. “California enacted this and it cut down on the number of hit and runs. People are less likely to leave the scene of an accident.”
Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan also supports the licenses saying to deny them ignores the reality that immigrants are here and that they are driving.
“We are all people,” Sullivan said. “It’s just a piece of paper that separates us.”
Amherst Police Chief Scott P. Livingstone, Franklin Sheriff Christopher J. Donelan and Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington have all signed on.
The Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce and the Western Mass Area Labor Federation are also in support.
Jeff Jones of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1459 spoke out Tuesday in support.
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse said he issued an executive order in 2014 ordering Holyoke police to not enforce federal civil detainer requests for holding immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally past the point they would usually be released.
He said the order is even more important given President Donald Trump’s hardline stance and federal immigration agent’s recent history of detaining even U.S. citizens on suspicion of being in the country illegally.
“That creates two systems, one for white people and one for everybody else,” he said.
Morse is running for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives against U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield.
Massachusetts has 255,000 undocumented immigrants, according to labor leaders at the event. Together, they generate $8.8 billion a year for the state’s economy and pay $160 million a year in state and local taxes.
One immigrant speaker who declined to give his name said though a translator that inducement people grow the food, transport the food and cook the food on people’s plates every day. They are in this country to work, they want to work and to raise their families in dignity, he said. Nothing more.
The Pioneer Valley Worker Center has a list of 150 local businesses who have signed on with their support. The list is on its website.
State Sen. Natalie Blais, D- Sunderland and state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, spoke in favor of the bill Tuesday. They said state Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, is also a supporter on the Transportation Committee.
This would be the basic Massachusetts driver’s license, not the enhanced one needed to gain access to some government buildings or to board an airliner.
Douglas J. Fisher, the Episcopal bishop of Western Massachusetts, said he worked on the license issue starting 10 years ago when he was a church pastor in New York.
He said besides the public safety and economic benefit, the religious reason is clear.
“We know that the Hebrew scriptures and New Testament are constantly telling us to welcome the stranger,” Fisher said. “And to love our neighbor.”