By Jessica Santos, PhD, Director of the Leah Zallman Center for Immigrant Health Research
Two years ago, physician and public health researcher Dr. Leah Zallman wrote this beautiful blog sharing her reflections on National Immigrants Day. She reminded us how we are all interconnected and encouraged us to exercise our right and privilege to vote on Election Day.
We all remember the 2020 election. I remember feeling like the future of our country and the safety and health of our communities were riding on that vote. Yet, our non-citizen friends and colleagues didn’t get to participate, despite the fact that the results would personally affect their rights and well-being.
Today is National Immigrants Day, once again. And once again, we are facing an upcoming vote on Election Day that will directly affect the safety and health of our communities. As a Massachusetts resident and researcher who has the distinct honor of running the Leah Zallman Center for Immigrant Health Research at the Institute for Community Health, I will be first in line on November 8th to vote Yes on 4.
Massachusetts is poised to be the 17th state to allow undocumented immigrant drivers to apply for and receive driver’s licenses. The Work and Family Mobility Act was signed on June 13, 2022, after decades of persistent advocacy by immigrant leaders, including Lenita Reason, Executive Director of the Brazilian Worker Center and Leah Zallman Center advisory council member, and Chrystel Murrieta-Ruiz, Political Coordinator at 32BJ SEIU New England District 615, co-chairs of the Driving Families Forward Coalition. Folks from a wide range of political and social backgrounds supported it, including law enforcement, ACLU, Health and Law Immigrant Solidarity, Lawyers for Civil Rights, League of Women Voters, labor unions, the Massachusetts Teacher’s Association, and many more. The fact that it passed means that Massachusetts has already shown–through the legislative system–that the policy has majority support. Question 4 is only on the ballot this November because a small minority of anti-immigrant people are trying to go against the will of the people.
We–the people, the majority–value and support immigrants. There is no us v. them. Only us.
Immigrants make up one in five Massachusetts workers, and 100,000 children in Massachusetts live with at least one undocumented family member. I am proud to live in Waltham, where diversity matters. But diversity is meaningless without equity. I want all of my neighbors’ children to have the same opportunities as my son, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or immigration status. A standard driver’s license doesn’t ensure equity. It doesn’t give undocumented immigrants a REAL ID or the right to vote. But it would directly raise the quality of life for nearly 200,000 people in Massachusetts, simultaneously improving safety and community health for all.
We are all safer when everybody on the road is licensed. As Cristina Araujo Brinkerhoff, a Boston University School of Social Work PhD candidate and Brazilian Worker Center board member (and former ICH Research Associate!), points out, many undocumented immigrants drive out of necessity and are scared of being stopped by the police. This fear does not help us have safer communities, which is a goal we all share. Research has consistently found that legislation like the Work and Family Mobility Act creates safer communities: California’s AB60 reduced hit-and-runs by 7-10%.
At the Leah Zallman Center, we do applied research for real world impact, listen closely to immigrant leaders, and pay attention to existing data so we can put our energy into issues that really matter for immigrant health. This ballot question matters for immigrant health and community health. Yesterday, the Leah Zallman Center put our money where our mouth is and donated to the Yes on 4 campaign to get the word out. On Election Day, join me in voting Yes on 4 to advance community safety, health, and equity.