The Work and Family Mobility Act is a new law in Massachusetts that would allow non-citizen immigrants to apply for drivers licenses starting July 1, 2023. But only four days after it was passed through the state legislature this June, a right-wing coalition began a campaign to repeal the law through a ballot referendum this coming November.
For 20 years, organizers in Massachusetts have fought for legislation that allows non-citizen immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. Several different versions of the bill have been raised and failed to pass over that time. This most recent victory took three years of organizing and struggle led by the Driving Families Forward Coalition, making Massachusetts the 17th state to pass a similar law.
This anti-immigrant referendum is a key example of how the rightwing can mobilize to reverse gains the progressive left has already won. In this article, we expose the main players behind the referendum and their true objectives, de-bunk their racist myths, and explain how this attack is not an anomaly, but part of a national right-wing movement.
What would the Work and Family Mobility Act change?
Frank Soults is a Senior Communications Specialist for 32BJ Service Employees International Union, and has been working with the Yes on 4 For Safer Roads campaign since it launched in September. In a conversation with Liberation News, he explained what the law would change for both immigrants and non-immigrants in Massachusetts.
“It affects [immigrant’s] lives constantly, in ways large and small,” he said. Just like everyone else, immigrants have to visit the doctor, take their children to school, travel to work, pick up groceries, and perform other daily tasks that require transportation.
“One immigrant that I met with today told me once he was trying to rent some power tools [for his work], and he wasn’t able to rent them because he didn’t have any state ID or license,” Soults said. “I have also spoken with domestic violence survivors who talked about how difficult it was for them to escape their abusers. They would speak to advocates who would say, ‘well, pack your car with all your documents and some clothes because you need as fast an escape as possible.’ And that’s really difficult if you cannot legally drive.”
“Some immigrants who are trying to follow the law and not drive end up walking on the side of the road late at night,” Soults explained. Immigrant workers have been exposed to COVID from sharing rides to work, leading to outbreaks of the virus in the state.
Many immigrants have no other option but to drive without a license in order to get to work and support their families, and they live in fear of being found this way and deported by ICE. Everyone should have the right to mobility, and to live without the fear of being separated from their homes and families.
Soults also explained how this new law would make roads safer for everyone. More drivers will be taking written and road driving tests. More drivers will be insured.
Other states who have passed similar laws, like Connecticut and California, have seen remarkable drops in “hit-and-run” accidents, and Utah and New Mexico have reported drops in the amount of uninsured motorists. In New York, the number of arrests for driving without a license has dropped by half.
Who is behind the anti-immigrant referendum?
The organization Fair and Secure Massachusetts is behind the November referendum to repeal the Work and Family Mobility Act. FSMA’s website states boldly on the home page: “We are a country of rules and laws. Laws we must follow to ensure a fair, safe, and functional society. We cannot reward people who broke our laws to be here.”
Maureen Maloney is a leader in the organization. She supports the border wall, and spoke at an early campaign rally for Donald Trump that helped him brand immigration as a signature issue. In an opinion piece for The Berkshire Eagle, Maloney wrote, “Beyond the issues of public safety and election integrity, giving driver’s licenses to people who are living here without legal status fundamentally undermines the rule of law in our country.”
Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Jim Lyons said in a statement, “This law is nothing but a Democratic Party Trojan horse intended to bring us another step closer to sanctuary state status.” The right-wing organization Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance has donated more than $7,000 to the ‘No’ campaign, and MFA founder Rick Green has personally donated an additional $50,000.
“We believe that the Republican Party chose this measure because they saw it as a way to leverage their statewide campaigns,” Soults told Liberation News. “They saw it as a potential wedge issue to elevate the profile of their candidates. It seems very similar to what Ron DeSantis did in Martha’s Vineyard … simply to elevate his own political profile.”
Opposition misleads voters with right-wing myths
The opposition only submitted their gathered signatures for the referendum on Sept. 7, meaning the ballot question missed the state’s July 2022 deadline to be included in the printed voter guide mailed to every household. With such little time to organize a defense, the Yes on 4 for Safer Roads campaign has been fighting an uphill battle to get the word out about the ballot question, remind voters that they will have to turn over their ballot to find the question, and bust the right-wing myths about the law.
The very first issue highlighted on FSMA’s website is about voting rights. They claim Question 4 “would jeopardize the integrity of state elections by opening a backdoor for undocumented immigrants to use driver’s licenses to vote.”
When Governor Charlie Baker vetoed the Work and Family Mobility Act in May, he said in his veto message that the act “significantly increases the risk that non-citizens will be registered to vote.” But advocates for the law correctly refute this claim, and the senate overrode his veto with a 32 to 8 majority.
The opposition says the WFMA will bring more illegal immigration to Massachusetts. “Offering a reward for immigrating illegally also incentivizes everything that comes with illegal immigration; violent gangs, criminals, and drugs.”
Soults responded, “Their reasoning is that they’re trying to bet that this can be made into an immigration issue — a fight about immigration law — but of course whether this law stands or doesn’t stand, immigration won’t be affected one way or the other.”
Fair and Secure MA also claims that Question 4 would increase taxes for non-immigrants in the state. Soults said, “Immigrants want to be able to earn these licenses, and do everything that’s required [to earn them]. That would include paying taxes and fees, and that’s estimated to raise about $10 million or more in the first three years.”
Massachusetts is no exception to right-wing attacks
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, thousands protested across the country, including in Massachusetts. At many of these protests, local residents shared the sentiment that they were thankful to live in Massachusetts, where access to abortion is protected by state laws.
Abortion rights are still protected in the state at this time, but Ballot Question 4 is an example of how the rightwing can quickly mobilize to revoke rights the working class has already won — whether they were passed into law five months ago or 50 years ago.
Massachusetts legislators voted in 2016 to add gender identity to a law that prohibits discrimination in public accommodations. Immediately, a right-wing coalition of anti-LGBTQ bigots began collecting signatures to put this law back on the 2018 statewide ballot as a referendum. The right-wing bigots did not win in 2018, though — Massachusetts residents voted with a landslide 68% to support transgender rights.
An assault on democracy and the whole working class
Why is the rightwing so opposed to even the marginal and unlikely possibility of non-citizen immigrants voting, the first issue listed on FSMA’s website? It goes beyond racism and bigotry. Far-right politicians know they are unable to mobilize a majority of the population against their reactionary agenda. A united working class is a threat to their power. This is why many Republicans are leading attacks against Black voting rights and fighting for “independent state legislature theory” — a far-right legal doctrine that could end the popular vote for the presidency.
In the PSL, we believe that non-citizen immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, should be allowed to vote. Immigrants are subject to the same laws, taxes and regulations as non-immigrants. Immigrants work in and contribute to our communities, and should have an equal say in how they are run. Until we win that right in the United States, all progressive people must fight for the basic human rights of immigrants — like the right to mobility — at the ballot box and in the streets.
“Write a letter to the editor of your local paper, especially in places where this issue might not be getting exposure,” Soults added. “We’re all rewarded if this law passes.”
This November, vote ‘YES’ on Question 4 in Massachusetts to defend immigrant rights!
To support the Yes on 4 for Safer Roads campaign, we encourage our readers to donate, sign up to volunteer, and learn more at saferroadsma.com.