Many of us remember the stories. We heard them at Shabbat dinner or Passover or Rosh Hashanah. The stories of our grandparents or great-grandparents who left their homes and came to this country. They settled in Chelsea, Lynn, Revere and East Boston (or New York, Chicago, etc.). They built lives, formed communities and flourished in America. Now, over a century later, immigrants still come to this country in search of a better life, fleeing violence, economic and increasingly climate disasters. And those communities that once nurtured our Jewish immigrant story still do so today, even in the face of a broken and seemingly impossible American immigration “system.”
Nearly 250,000 undocumented immigrants currently live in Massachusetts. Many of these people work and pay taxes in our state. Yet as a result of their immigration status, undocumented immigrants are denied driver’s licenses in Massachusetts. Especially outside of the Boston area, driving is a necessity. People rely on personal vehicles to get to work, go to school and get to medical appointments. For undocumented Massachusetts residents, many of whom have been on the front lines of responding to the pandemic, simple traffic stops can result in detention, deportation and family separation.
Our commonwealth now has an opportunity to address this inequity: The Work and Family Mobility Act, currently pending in the State House, would allow undocumented Massachusetts residents to pass a driving test and obtain a standard license. This is hardly a novel idea: 16 other states, including our neighbors Connecticut, Vermont and New York, allow undocumented residents to drive.
The Torah tells us 36 times to welcome the stranger into our community. At our seders, in the Haggadah we are told that “in every generation, a person is obligated to see themselves as though they came forth from Egypt,” which implores us to empathize with the displaced. Our own community’s history shows us how cruel a society can be when it forgets this crucial instruction. Passing the Work and Family Mobility Act gives us the opportunity to be a welcoming community and act on our ancient values in the modern day.
There is huge momentum for this bill right now. Attorney general Maura Healey, and police chiefs, district attorneys and sheriffs throughout the state, have endorsed it. A majority of state senators and representatives have co-sponsored it (and it’s a bipartisan bill). Now, the legislature needs to prioritize getting it passed.
Call your state senator and state representative and tell them you support driver’s licenses for all immigrants, and it’s time to pass the Work and Family Mobility Act. Just call the State House switchboard at 617-722-2000 and ask for your elected officials. To check on who they are, go to wheredoivotema.com.
If you want more information about this issue or want to work with JALSA on ways to make our state more welcoming for immigrants, contact JALSA legislative director David Albright at email@example.com or 617-227-3000.
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