Massachusetts Activists Nearly Overturn Driver's Licenses for Illegal Aliens
By John Thompson
With immigration policy deadlocked in Congress, much of the conflict has moved to the state level.
Some states and localities have enacted “sanctuary" policies and other measures to undermine federal and state cooperation in deporting criminal aliens, or have extended various benefits – including driver's licenses – to unlawful residents.
Conversely, other states have introduced measures to discourage illegal immigration. For instance, 19 states passed statutes requiring the use of E-Verify to authenticate the immigration status of job applicants.
The process whereby Massachusetts became the 18th state to approve driver's licenses for illegal aliens illustrates how the conflict is playing out in the states.
True, Massachusetts is an extreme case: Democrats control the entire congressional delegation and 80-90 % of the state legislature, while Republicans do not contest most legislative elections.
With limited accountability and highly supportive media, progressive advocacy groups wield disproportionate influence. Consequently, a list of pro-illegal immigration bills – including the driver's licenses bill – made their way into the legislature, but Democratic leaders bottled these bills up in committees, realizing that, even in Massachusetts, priorities of leftist militants are not widely shared.
A 2019 Harvard/Harris Poll found 72% of U.S. voters oppose driver's licenses for illegal aliens. Just before the House vote in May of 2022, a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll found 47% of Massachusetts voters in opposition and 46% in favor.
However, as progressives have become increasingly radicalized in recent years, most Democrat politicians and their media allies have shifted to a de facto open borders stance. Consequently, the driver's licenses bill was allowed to reach the floor of the legislature, where it passed 119-36 in the House and 32-8 in the Senate. Gov. Charlie Baker's veto was overridden almost immediately.
In response, a Republican-led citizens group quickly gathered more than 100,000 signatures to introduce a ballot question to repeal the law in November and launched a grassroots campaign with standouts at traffic intersections and shopping malls, as well as door to door canvassing.
Meanwhile, open borders forces demonstrated their awesome capability to organize and raise money. The committee opposing repeal (Vote YES for Family and Work Mobility) received $3.7 million – 16 times more than the committee favoring repeal ($224,000).
Unions were among the top contributors: SEIU ($1.7 million); AFL-CIO ($78,000); and the Massachusetts teachers union ($110,000). The largest corporate contributors included Arbella Insurance ($200,000), Eastern Bank ($100,000), and State Street Bank ($50,000). Ample funding was used to launch a media blitz emphasizing “road safety.”
In November, voters retained the law by a margin of 54-46%, an undeniable victory for open borders forces. They had risked repudiation by espousing unpopular policies and it cost them nothing.
Organizers of the repeal effort may have associated the ballot question too closely with the outnumbered and badly factionalized Republican Party, which had a very down year – even for Massachusetts.
Democrat-held seats in the 160-member House rose from 125 to 133, while Republican ranks sank from 26 to 25. Democrats held 37 of 40 seats in the state Senate. Most legislative races were not contested.
Arguably, the ballot question went down with the Republican rout, losing by less than 8 points – while the GOP gubernatorial candidate lost by nearly 30 points (64-35%.)
The 2022 disaster is a question for Massachusetts Republicans to contemplate, but it is in no way comparable to the Party’s relatively mild disappointment on a national level, where GOP congressional candidates increased their share of votes 6 points from 2020 and gained control of the House of Representatives.
Nationally, the results from Massachusetts reveal that measures which condone illegal immigration are far less popular than progressive politicians and media would have us believe.
Furthermore, grassroots mobilization enabled motivated and informed citizens to overcome huge disadvantages in party identification, media coverage, and funding, which suggests that ballot initiatives may be an effective way to push back against open borders.
Perhaps emboldened by the success of open borders initiatives in Massachusetts, other states are now contemplating similar laws.
When ordinary citizens can come so close to defeating the open borders machine in a state as blue as Massachusetts, the prospects for success elsewhere in the country are nearly limitless.
This article was written by John Thompson, Co-Chair of the Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform.
The opinions expressed are his own.