Massachusetts Legislative Committees Consider In-State Tuition, Driver’s Licenses, Non-Citizen Voting
FAIR Take | July 2021
Committees of the Massachusetts state legislature have been busy in the past few weeks hearing in-state tuition, driver’s licenses and non-citizen voting bills that give significant new benefits to illegal aliens at the expense of the state’s citizens and legal immigrants. However, the committees have yet to vote on any of these bills.
In the past, similar bills have passed out of committee but have not been considered by the full Senate or House. While they would likely be vetoed by Governor Charlie Baker (R), the question remains whether the legislative chambers could muster the two-thirds supermajorities needed to override a veto.
On June 8, the Joint Committee on Higher Education considered Senate Bill (S.) 823 and House Bill (H.) 1352 that would extend in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities in Massachusetts to illegal aliens. Right now, there is no uniform statewide policy, leaving the decision to individual schools. These bills would allow illegal aliens to qualify for the in-state rates if they’ve attended a Massachusetts high school for three years and either graduated or received a GED. The Senate bill would exempt the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Law School and Medical School from this requirement.
The committee also considered a bill, H. 1348, sponsored by Rep. Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica), that would ban public institutions of higher education statewide from providing in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens.
Providing in-state tuition would benefit illegal aliens tremendously. UMass Boston charges $14,697 for in-state students and $35,159 for out-of-state students for the 2021-2022 academic year. Even at Fitchburg State, one of the more reasonable schools for tuition, illegal aliens would be able to attend for $970, the in-state rate instead of paying $7,050, the cost for out-of-state students.
Newton resident Henry Barbaro of the Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform and other opponents of illegal immigration testified in opposition. Barbaro called the idea unfair to American citizens and legal immigrants and asked, “[w]hy would anyone go through the bother of legally immigrating to Massachusetts when they can sidestep the process and gain the same benefits?”
Seventeen states currently grant in-state tuition to illegal aliens.
On June 23, the Joint Committee on Transportation considered two bills to authorize illegal aliens to receive Massachusetts driver’s licenses and ID cards, S. 2289 and H. 3456. The bills allow illegal aliens to provide a wide variety of documents to establish identity but the requirements are easily susceptible to fraud. Moreover, the bills prohibit the Registry of Motor Vehicles from keeping copies of these records, in order to prevent federal immigration authorities from accessing and using them.
A driver’s license is useful to create an appearance of lawful presence and serves as a virtual passport to the nation, opening many doors that would otherwise be unavailable. In addition to giving an individual the ability to travel freely throughout the country, it is also used for countless other purposes like registering to vote and applying for government benefits, as well as for establishing bank and credit card accounts.
Illegal aliens possessing driver’s licenses also pose a national security threat and frustrate the purposes of the REAL ID Act. Nineteen of the 9-11 hijackers had nearly thirty driver’s licenses between them.
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson (R) has repeatedly testified against similar bills in previous sessions, including at a 2019 marathon hearing in the legislature’s largest hearing room, where he said “passing these bills will make it even easier for criminal illegal aliens to evade law enforcement and victimize law-abiding U.S. citizens and Massachusetts residents … Making illegal immigrants eligible for official Massachusetts driver’s licenses is not only wrong, but it’s reckless. It will have a negative effect on the public safety of the people of the commonwealth.”
House Minority Leader Bradley Jones (R-North Reading) likewise condemned the bills as “wrong policy” and “rewarding people that are here illegally.”
Supporters of the bills claim they now have momentum and the support of a majority of members in each chamber. However, they still do not appear to have a supermajority in either chamber which would be needed to override a veto.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, most recently joined by Virginia in 2020.
Finally, also on June 23, the Joint Committee on Election Laws heard dozens of bills regarding elections, but most notably several that would allow non-citizen voting in local (but not state or federal) elections. From narrowest to broadest:
- H. 832 by Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa (D-Northampton) would amend the Northampton city charter to allow for non-citizen voting for local elections in that city;
- H. 828 by Rep. David Rogers (D-Cambridge) would create a process by which any city or town could adopt non-citizen voting for its local elections, without requiring further authorization from the legislature;
- S. 465 by Sen Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and H. 770 by Rep. Mike Connolly (D-Cambridge) would allow non-citizen legal immigrants over 18 to vote in local elections in any city or town statewide.
A small handful of localities across the country have non-citizen voting for some local elections, and no state has a statewide mandate for it like in S. 465 and H. 770. Most recently, the Vermont legislature overrode Gov. Phil Scott’s vetoes of two bills that authorize non-citizen legal residents to vote in local elections in the cities of Montpelier and Winooski.