Hundreds of people packed the Massachusetts Statehouse Wednesday for a joint House and Senate hearing on two bills that would let immigrants living in the state illegally get driver's licenses.
Most of the roughly 600 people in attendance were in support of the bills, which were filed by Democrats Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield and Sen. Brendan Crighton of Lynn. They would permit all qualified residents, regardless of immigration status, to receive a standard driver's license. Dozens of other lawmakers have signed on to co-sponsor the bills.
Supporters have argued that allowing those living in the state to get licenses, even if they are in the country illegally, will help make the roads safer.
"Morally it's the right thing to do and practically it's also the smart thing to do," Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone said at the hearing.
Critics argue that those in the country illegally aren't entitled to the benefit of a driver's license.
"Are you here illegally and, if you are, you should not be getting the same privileges that the people who follow the laws of this nation are afforded," Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson told reporters.
While about a dozen states have similar laws, including Connecticut, Vermont and New York, this type of legislation has failed in Massachusetts before, and Gov. Charlie Baker is planning to veto it should it pass.
"There's no documentation to back up the fact that they are who they say they are, and a driver's license is a passport to a lot of things," he said.
Dozens of groups rallied on the steps of the statehouse in support of the new proposal.
"We come here to work. And to support families and to be part of the American Dream," one woman said.
"We're driving already. I just need the opportunity to get the education, to get the knowledge, to be on the road," said a man named Alberto.