Registry will be ready to implement proof of residency law

The Island's only Registry of Motor Vehicles office is located at the Martha's Vineyard Airport Business Park. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Despite Gov. Deval Patrick’s concerns that it might be used to “identify and police” undocumented immigrants, the Registry of Motor Vehicles will be able by January to implement a new law requiring that vehicles be registered only by someone with “proof of legal residence,” according to Registrar Rachel Kaprielian.

“We will be ready by the time that the law takes effect, which in my understanding is January 1,” Ms. Kaprielian told the News Service before last Wednesday’s Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Board of Directors meeting in Somerville.

Gov. Deval Patrick unsuccessfully sought to amend and then vetoed legislation with the new requirement, but the Legislature rejected his amendment and then overrode his veto, 24-10 in the Senate and 135-19 in the House. The plan was inserted into the fiscal 2013 state budget and while proponents said that it was a common sense safety measure, Mr. Patrick said it veered too far into stringent immigration enforcement.

The law says anyone registering ownership of a motor vehicle at the Registry of Motor Vehicles must have “proof of legal residence,” though Ms. Kaprielian will be empowered to write “exemptions for out-of-state students, military personnel, senior citizens and disabled persons,” as well as other exemptions.

Under the law, people seeking to register a motor vehicle or trailer would need to provide a driver’s license, a state identification card, Social Security number, or “other proof of legal residence.”

“This is a concrete measure that strikes at the heart of the support structure that allows illegal immigrants to register and operate motor vehicles all while avoiding prosecution for immigration violations,” Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth) said in a statement after the budget was passed.

In his veto message, Mr. Patrick wrote, “I have been just as clear that I will not accept efforts to compel state authorities to enforce federal immigration rules,” and also wrote, “The RMV is also ill-equipped and under-staffed for such an assignment.”

The new law has required some preparation at the RMV.

“We’re starting to meet internally on it and we’re trying to flag any potential issues. We will be working through it, and we take, the most seriously, legislative mandates,” Ms. Kaprielian said.

While talking with callers on WBZ-AM last month, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said, “Registrar Kaprielian had given me a call and she’d expressed some concern, you know whether this would be extra cost on the registry and question whether they’d be able to enforce it because of that cost. But I told her, you know, if there are extra monies that are warranted to enforce that, we’ll be there to help out.”

In his veto letter, Mr. Patrick said the legislation was “overbroad” and that he was concerned that foreign students and seasonal residents could be “swept up” by it. He called the bill “flawed” and said it was “hard to understand” how a non-resident owning a vehicle here was a threat to public safety.

During his radio appearance last month, Mr. DeLeo said he knew of claims that the bill was perceived as a “shot at illegal immigrants who might try to register cars.” Mr. DeLeo, paraphrasing a co-sponsor of the legislation, Rep. John Fernandes (D-Milford), said, “Folks, whether they were illegal immigrants or not, these folks should have some type of identification in other words to buy or to register an automobile.”

Sen. Patricia Jehlen has also raised concerns over how the new requirement will be implemented.

“To ask people to verify a complex legal issue, I think is going to create serious problems with the registry,” Ms. Jehlen said at a July 12 debate on Patrick’s amendment to the legislation, which both branches rejected. She said there are many ways to prove legal residence, including 20 different types of visas.

Asked about that potential problem, Kaprielian referred to “policy regulations” and said that it would take work, but the registry would put the new law in place.

“It isn’t as though it’s not, you know, [a] lift to be ready, but we will be,” Ms. Kaprielian said.