Massachusetts has suspended Arizona driver's licenses in order to conduct an investigation after discovering immigrants who traveled to Arizona to take advantage of more flexible driver's license laws. The English language barrier allegedly kept some from being able to obtain a Massachusetts license. The Boston Globe reports on the pipeline from Massachusetts to Arizona that has triggered a debate between immigration policy and ensuring safety on the road:
"Unlike Massachusetts, Arizona allows applicants to use translators to take the written test - or, more commonly in these cases, bypass it altogether if they obtain a certificate from a state-approved private driving school, where instructors often speak their languages.
Abdikadir Mohamed of Lynn is among the immigrants who joined a stream of refugees from Somalia, Bhutan, and Burma who caught flights to Arizona, obtained licenses, and returned to Massachusetts to exchange them, only to have them suspended."
To accomodate immigrants, Massachusetts offers the written learner's permit test in English and 26 other languages, which state officials say is second only to California. The head of the state Registry of Motor Vehicles Rachel Kaprielian said that the immigrants broke the law by going to Arizona:
"'You have to follow a set of rules,' she said, and added: 'That doesn’t change if you came over on the Mayflower or if you just got here from a refugee camp. The same level of public safety applies. This isn’t about immigrant populations. It’s a small group of people, however it occurred, that broke the law.’'’
The violators were called to hearings, and the state suspended the licenses for 60 days, and told violators they would have to pay a $100 reinstatement fee and take the permit test and road test to get a license in the Bay State.
Supporters of the refugees tell the Globe that the state's written test is out of date, and needs to include the languages of the newer immigrant populations in Massachusetts. The Globe reports that community organizer Aweis Hussein at the nonprofit Chelsea Collaborative, urged Massachusetts to allow translators for the written test, like Maine and a limited number of other states do.
Few states routinely allow people to use translators when taking the written driving tests. The Globe reports that Arizona officials are investigating whether refugees exploited a provision that allows people to skip the written and road tests by taking lessons and obtaining a certificate from a state-approved driving school. Unlike Massachusetts, Arizona does not require proof of residency to obtain driver's license.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.