Poll: Mass. is not crazy about the idea of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants

A narrow plurality of Massachusetts residents oppose allowing undocumented immigrants to get state IDs.

A protest march in November 2019 by Cosecha Massachusetts walked from East Boston to Winthrop, to build support for the Work and Family Mobility Act. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Even as a bill allowing people without legal immigration status to get driver’s licenses has garnered widespread support from legislators in both the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Senate, residents are still divided.

The bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives in February, is called the “Act relative to work and family mobility” and would increase access to standard Massachusetts licenses for individuals who do not have proof they are in the country legally.

A narrow plurality, 47%, of respondents to a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll said they oppose the legislation. Following close behind, 46% said they support the legislation, leaving about 7% who said they were unsure. The close results for overall approval and disapproval were within the survey’s 3.5-percentage-point margin of error. 


Those who opposed the bill tended to be more Republican, older, and more male. Party affiliation saw the strongest divisions with 83% of Republicans opposing the bill, compared to just 23% of Democrats surveyed opposing the legislation. 

Supporters of the bill say it is a matter of public safety because it may help ensure more people on the roads have proper driving training. Opponents on the other hand say undocumented people should not be afforded the chance to get a license and fear it could be the start of a slippery slope. 

The age range with the lowest approval rating for the proposed legislation was those 56 to 65 years of age, with 58% opposing the bill. 

The House passed the bill 120-36, a veto proof majority. Senators, including one of the bill’s sponsors Sen. Adam Gomez from Springfield, have expressed confidence that the bill will also pass the Senate with enough votes to overcome a potential veto from Gov. Charlie Baker.

“I’m pretty sure and very confident that the Senate will pass this. And if it does come back to us, we will make sure that we have the same [support to] override,” Gomez told the Boston Globe.


The bill the Senate will debate this Thursday is “very close” to the version the House passed in February, according to Senate President Karen Spilka, NBC Boston reported. 

If passed by the Senate, the bill will go to Baker’s desk, where its future is unclear — the Republican governor has expressed his opposition to the concept in the past. 

“This license we’re talking about is not a privilege-to-drive card, which is what they have in a bunch of other states. It looks exactly like a Massachusetts driver’s license,” Baker said during a March appearance on GBH’s Boston Public Radio. “You can’t tell the difference between this and a regular one.”

While the Senate gears up to discuss the bill, the survey also showed a strong gender divide with 53% of women indicating they supported the bill and just 38% of men saying the same (leaving 55% opposing the legislation and 6% undecided).

The statewide survey was conducted by phone April 24 through 28 and polled 800 Massachusetts residents. 

Some respondents who opposed the idea in the survey, later told Boston Globe reporters in interviews they were more comfortable with the concept when they had more details and language clarifying that applicants would not be registered to vote and that the licenses issued are not Real IDs.


A Real ID is a form of federal ID and starting next May will be the only form of driver’s license that Massachusetts residents can use to board a plane in the United States. 

If passed, Massachusetts would join 16 other states and the District of Columbia that already have similar laws in place — including nearby states like Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, and Vermont. 

Under the bill, those seeking a license would still need to provide “satisfactory” proof of identity, date of birth, and Massachusetts residency. 

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has expressed her support for the legislation and pointed out the benefits this bill could have for the 29% of Boston’s population that comes from an immigrant background.

“Supporting our immigrant communities is supporting our city,” Wu said at a Driving Families Forward coalition event April 5. “All the work that we’re doing around housing affordability, around educational quality and access, around clean air and jobs will only matter if people can actually get to all of the opportunities we’re setting up and working so hard to create.”


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