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10,000 undocumented Irish would be given freedom to apply for Massachusetts license if bill is passed. Photo by: Wikicommons

Safe Driving Bill would grant licenses to undocumented Irish in Massachusetts

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10,000 undocumented Irish would be given freedom to apply for Massachusetts license if bill is passed. Photo by: Wikicommons

In Massachusetts, lawmakers are being pushed by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) and Irish community groups to support a Safe Driving Bill that would allow all foreign-born residents to secure driver's licenses.

For thousands of undocumented Irish men and women who are living in the state such changes to the law would be welcomed.

Currently any immigrant seeking a driver’s license in the state must first prove that they are in the country legally either by showing their Social Security Number (SSN) or some other acceptable immigration documentation. Due to this requirement, the Irish living in our community out of status face a dilemma every single day when they take the risk to drive to work, to pick up their children from school or take a relative to the doctors knowing all the time they will face deportation if pulled over for driving without a license.

“You can’t adjust your status but you have to get to work,” commented one Irishman who has lived out of status in Massachusetts for over 10 years.

Wishing to remain anonymous, he further remarked, “The fear never leaves you. You are scared out of your life but you have to make money so that you can make a life for your family.”

Like many undocumented immigrants living in the state he risks everything he has to get to work. “The second you put the key in the ignition, you are looking over your shoulder. You are living with it non-stop.”

Now the largest immigrant advocacy group in New England, MIRA, is pushing lawmakers to support a Safe Driving Bill that would allow all foreign-born residents to secure Massachusetts driver's licenses. If this bill is passed, it would ensure that all immigrants could drive lawfully regardless of status which would in turn ensure safer roads for all state residents and allow immigrants to drive without fear of deportation.

The new Irish Ambassador to the US, Anne Anderson, who visited Boston at the end of January has given her support to the bill saying, “Adoption of the Safe Driving Bill would make a real difference in the lives of the undocumented.  It would address an issue that causes major problems on a day to day basis. We very much hope that the Bill is well received in the Legislature.”

Her views are shared by the Consul General of Ireland in Boston, Breandán Ó Caollaí, who added, “It is important that the Irish community’s voice be heard in the debate on any legislative measure that can improve the situation of our undocumented citizens in Massachusetts.”

Massachusetts would not be the first state to revamp its driving laws to make them more inclusive for all residents using the roads. Across America, states such as Washington, New Mexico, and Colorado have already eliminated immigration status as a barrier to safe driving or have recently passed legislation to accomplish this.

After many months of lobbying by MIRA and their supporters, a hearing is scheduled to take place at the Massachusetts State House on March 5.

The hearing will be open to the public and representatives from Irish organizations are all due to attend.

However, given the importance of this Safe Driving Bill to the undocumented Irish living and working in Massachusetts, members of the Irish community and MA residents who want to see safer roads for all are encouraged to come along to show their support. Speaking about the need for a show of unity on this bill, Ronnie Millar, Executive Director at the Irish International Immigrant Center (IIIC) remarked, "We need as many people to come to this as possible to really show the Transportation Committee that the community cares."

It is hoped that the Joint Transportation Committee will issue a favorable report for the Safe Driving Bill at this hearing or in the days immediately after which would allow the bill to advance to the next stage.

As for the undocumented Irishman who spoke with IrishCentral, a change to this current state law would have a profound impact on his life. “It would make such a difference…it would remove the fear.” And maybe for the first time, he can finally drive with  peace of mind.

If you have any questions related to this article you can contact MIRA 617-350-5480; IIIC at 617-542-7654 or the IPC 617- 265-5300.

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