Governor Patrick offers hope for undocumented-immigrant drivers and college students

Two days ago, as every resident of Massachusetts was daydreaming of what to do if he or she won the Mega Millions (I too was guilty of that), Governor Deval Patrick held an intense marathon of media availability. He gave 15-minute interviews to 19 reporters from all over Mass., including two from Hispanic media outlets, three Brazilians, and one Haitian.

El Planeta was one of those two Spanish-speaking outlets, and so it was that a relaxed Patrick spoke to us. I asked him about -- surprise, surprise -- immigration. More specifically, about the long doomed in-state tuition bill for undocumented students, the imminent implementation of the federal Secure Communities program in Mass., and lo and behold, driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.

In the candid interview (Patrick told me he was going to buy a Mega Million ticket later in the day), the Governor seemed to be genuinely open to finding a way to identifying every person that drives a car in the Commonwealth, whether he is in the country illegally or not. Here's what he told me after I asked him, Are driver's licenses out of the question for undocumented in Mass?

I don't think they're... I think driver's licenses are hard, not just politically, but because under federal law... you lose your federal highway funds if you do it. At the same time, I met someone who was showing me, not a driver's license but an identity card issued by the RMV I think from Utah, as a way to ensure that the people know what the rules of the road are and that law enforcement knows who's on the road. And so I want to look at that and what other states are doing.

Whoa, a refreshingly open stance on the subject, one that is very different from what he's been communicating. Granted, he's not running for reelection anymore. "This is one of the questions that people who are trying to stir things up ask first," he told me.

The problem with driver's licenses for undocumented is that the federal Real ID act prevents states from granting people without legal status and a social security number an actual driver's license that can be used as a form of ID at federal buildings, airports, etc.

However, Utah is indeed one of three states in the country that currently offer some type of identification for undocumented drivers. New Mexico and Washington are the other two. Utah issues a "Driving Privilege Card" specifically for undocumented drivers and is not valid for identification purposes. Applicants need to pass a road test, show a valid foreign passport, proof of residency in Utah, and evidence that they pay federal income taxes (a social security number is not needed to get a tax identification number. Isn't that beautiful? Even though the government has a completely fucked up immigration system, it will take your money, no questions asked. Genius.)

In a story published last month, the New York Times described the perils of undocumented drivers all over the country. According to their analysis, an estimated 4.5 million undocumented immigrants drive regularly in the country. They're not driving just for fun. They go to their job, sometimes to two jobs, to pick up their kids from school, etc. It is a public safety issue. As the article states, the consequences of not having a more sensible and common sense approach on this subject are far more costly. Even a group of police chiefs from Massachusetts have publicly supported issuing driver's licenses to undocumented. Governor Patrick seems to be on the right side of this issue; one can only hope that he makes Massachusetts the fourth state to grant some sort of driving card.

 THE GOVERNOR ON IMMIGRATION

SECURE COMMUNITIES PROGRAM: STUDIES SHOW THAT 75% OF THOSE DETAINED UNDER SEC COMM ARE NOT CRIMINALS; HALF DEPORTED IN BOSTON NOT EVEN CONVICTED OF CRIMINAL OFFENSES

First of all, we don't have the option of saying no. It's not like I'm the governor and get to say no I'm not going to implement a federal law. It has to be in place by 2013 [secure communities] and 35 other states have already signed. My view is, if we had to do it, there is a right way and a wrong way of doing it. The wrong way is to enable racial profiling, to turn local law enforcement into an arm of immigration authorities, that's the wrong way. The right way, it seems to me, is to emphasize the most violent arrestees. If we are going to have some influence on this, then we need to be a part of shaping it. I haven't signed it yet but I'm going to. We're negotiating this with ICE right now, and we have the leadership of those community groups at the table with us right now trying to work out what kinds of parameters to put in place to try to do this in the most thoughtful and most compassionate way.

I guess one thing I would ask you to convey is that your readers have a friend in this Governor. I don't have the option to say I'm going to ignore federal law. But I do have the heart and the mind to say, if we have to do this let's do it in a way that's compassionate. I think that our ability to influence that is determined entirely on our willingness to participate. I know people are anxious, I'm anxious about it too.

IN-STATE TUITION: THERE ARE TEN STATES IN THE US THAT OFFER IN-STATE TUITION FOR UNDOCUMENTED STUDENTS

I looked at this a bunch of different ways. Could I do it by executive order, could I move it in the legislature, what are the chances of moving that piece of legislation, if I do it by executive order, would the legislature overrule me? The advice that I was given by council is we cannot do it without a change in federal law. And then I see other states doing it. So I have sent them [counselors] back to the drawing board to figure out how is it that other states are doing it without forfeiting their support. If the can, why not us?

The [federal] law in question, paraphrased: if you treat a class of non residents as a resident, then you must treat all non residents as residents. Meaning, forget about a child of an undocumented person who was raised here, then you have to treat someone from CT as if from Mass, and that doesn't make any sense. And if you don't do that, if you don't treat everyone as residents, then, according to this law, you forfeit all your federal support for education.

But then I see other states doing it, how come they can? That's what the lawyers are trying to figure out right now. Let's see first what they say.

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