Gov. Patrick sends immigration issue back to lawmakers

In amending the budget to strike out a requirement that registered vehicle owners provide proof of “legal residence,” Gov. Deval Patrick on Sunday reaffirmed his commitment to keep state offices out of immigration enforcement.

“To the extent [the budget rider] is expressly intended to target undocumented people, it strays into inappropriate territory,” Patrick wrote in a preamble to his amendment, which calls for proof of residence in Massachusetts – but not “legal” residence. Proof of residence can include, among other things, utility bills, a car insurance policy, or a canceled personal check.

It will now be up to the House and Senate whether they agree on the more limited scope suggested by the governor or whether they will send back legislation similar to that contained in the budget rider. Patrick approved four other measures that will increase punishments for trying to subvert the laws around driver’s licenses.

The governor’s decision to amend the identification requirements for vehicle registration disappointed the families of those who have lost a loved one to an unauthorized immigrant driving a registered car without a valid driver’s license.

“I’m angry and I’m bitter. We lost a family member,” said Maureen Grossi Laquerre, whose brother was killed by an unauthorized immigrant from Portugal who ran a stop sign and blinking red light. “People need to stop taking us lightly.”

Laquerre said the budget riders that made it to Patrick’s desk were “only a minimum” of what should be done to crack down on immigration violations, and said she was not satisfied by three other, similar provisions Patrick did sign into law on Sunday.

Though they had opposed all five budget riders – which mete out harsher penalties for unlicensed driving, employing unlicensed drivers, allowing an unlicensed driver to drive or manufacturing fake IDs – immigration activists were pleased at Patrick’s actions.

“We are in general thankful,” said Monique Nguyen, part of a group of activists who had pressed the governor to commit to a veto. However, she also cautioned, “We’re still concerned about how the increased penalties will play out in the communities.”

Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition Executive Director Eva Millona has worried that requiring the Registry of Motor Vehicles to verify the immigration status of vehicle owners will result in some immigrants who are in the country legally to nonetheless be mistakenly denied vehicle registration.
However, proponents have argued that it is a necessary measure to stop inexperienced, unlicensed drivers, who might be ignorant of state laws, from getting behind the wheel of a car with valid registration.

Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth) has consistently filed, and passed through the Senate, legislation that would make the RMV require a driver’s license for all motor vehicle registrations. Hedlund’s proposal, which he said had just as consistently failed in the House, made it into the reconciled final budget, with some adjustments allowing anyone with a Social Security number or other “proof of legal residence” to register a car.

The bipartisan push in the Senate to require a driver’s license attached to each registration came in the wake of a number of deadly car accidents that involved unauthorized driving with a valid license, especially in and around Milford, scene of three such accidents over the course of less than two years.

“When Richard Grossi got killed and then Andrea Agosto, both of those happened in my town,” said Maureen Maloney, mother of Matthew Denise. “Now it’s happened to me. I’ve lost my son.”

Though Maloney, like Laquerre, is adamantly opposed to illegal immigration, she said the provision for requiring licenses with car registrations is more about public safety than immigration. She said now driving is “nerve-wracking,” as she worries about people who may not even know how to read the road signs or the rules of the road, yet drive with a valid registration.

First stop for the governor’s amendment will be the House Committee on Bills in the Third Reading, which earlier this session lost its chairman, former Rep. Vincent Pedone (D-Worcester), who left the House.

“They seem like a no brainer reform,” said Massachusetts Republican Party spokesman Tim Buckley. “Unfortunately the governor has sided with some extreme left-wing special interest groups and has placed their interest above public safety.”

In his letter to the legislature, Patrick indicated that more harm than good would come of the legislation.
“It is hard to understand how a non-resident simply owning a vehicle in Massachusetts jeopardizes the public’s safety,” Patrick wrote. “Indeed, it serves the public’s safety interests to know, through registration, the name and whereabouts of the owner of every vehicle on the Commonwealth’s roads. Foreign students with an international license or seasonal residents who wish to register a vehicle in Massachusetts could be swept up in [the bill], as written. In this sense, the provision is over broad.”

The governor’s amendment also includes a provision for non-Massachusetts residents, military personnel, disabled and elderly, along with others to receive exemption from the proof-of-residency requirement.