Cambridge, Mass., to Foreigners: No Green Card, No License, No Problem!

Cambridge, Massachusetts, has long been noted for being on the radical fringe. But it has gone completely overboard with its latest attempt to protest America’s immigration laws.

The Cambridge City Council recently passed an ordinance directing the city’s police department to refrain from arresting illegal alien drivers who are found to be operating a motor vehicle without a license.  Instead, it will issue a summons, directing illegal aliens to appear in state court to face misdemeanor charges.

Cambridge is already a so-called “sanctuary city.” However, this new ordinance is meant to further shield illegal aliens from potential arrest and deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which uses both state arrest records and DMV databases to locate illegal aliens.

Under Massachusetts law, driving without a license is a misdemeanor that carries a fine ranging from $500 to $1,000 and/or imprisonment for up to ten days. Local police in the Commonwealth generally take unlicensed drivers into custody and impound the vehicle they were operating. This is done in order to protect the public and give officers a chance to determine whether the driver – who can’t be positively identified by motor vehicle records – has any outstanding warrants or other relevant criminal history.

Nevertheless, Cambridge appears to be more worried about shielding illegal aliens from federal immigration enforcement than it does about upholding the laws of the Commonwealth or protecting its citizens. And this is no symbolic action that is free of any real-world consequences. It should concern anyone who cares about law and order. The Cambridge City Council’s diktat ensures a number of disturbing outcomes:

  • It rewards law breakers by shielding them from the consequences of their illegal behavior.
  • It does so by diminishing the penalties they face for further disregard of the law.
  • It rewards scofflaws while subjecting citizens and lawful immigrants – whose only offense may be unlicensed driving – to harsher penalties than those with an established history of law-breaking.
  • It undermines both federal and state law by implying that it is permissible to ignore any laws with which one disagrees.

Cambridge is also sending a clear message that it has no respect for American-style federalism. Under our constitution, city governments don’t make decisions about who ICE should arrest, or when, where and how it should take them in to custody. Those are responsibilities delegated entirely to the federal government. And if Cambridge wishes to change U.S. immigration laws, it should petition its representatives in Congress to change them. Instead, it has decided to unilaterally undermine them.

Cambridge City Councilor Quinton Zondervan has stated that the driving ordinance is meant “to protect our community members from a federal government that’s out of control.” But who is really out of control? The federal government that is enforcing duly enacted immigration laws or the City of Cambridge, which is encouraging foreign nationals to break both federal and state laws. To anyone who values the rule of law, the answer should be obvious.

About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.

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