Julia Schlozman

The true meaning of upward mobility

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The true meaning of upward mobility

Julia Schlozman

Beginning in 2019, attorney Julia Schlozman turned her efforts toward an initiative to allow undocumented immigrants to lawfully obtain a driver’s license in the state of Massachusetts.

A staff attorney for the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA), Schlozman helped write the legislation that would achieve this goal. Called the Work and Family Mobility Act, it was passed by the state legislature, then survived a repeal campaign on the ballot last fall. It took effect in July.

Schlozman and her fellow members of the JALSA policy team played “a small but significant part of a much, much broader effort,” a coalition called Driving Families Forward that included “grass-roots community-based organizations, labor unions, other nonprofits and a significant number of affected individuals themselves,” Schlozman said.

As a Harvard College undergraduate, Schlozman studied medieval art history. She went on to receive a J.D. from Harvard Law School, work in legal services, and delve into legislative initiatives at JALSA.

“Being Jewish is an absolutely essential aspect of my identity,” she said. “I take holidays, rituals, worship and Scripture very seriously.” They inspire her social justice work, with another such inspiration being “the common shared experience of the Jewish people in migration and exile itself, and of course, the portion in the Torah connected to doing well for the stranger.”

When she joined the Work and Family Mobility Act initiative, it had already been filed at the State House. Yet she wondered whether it could accommodate some changes. JALSA was fielding questions about whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could determine whether the holder of a driver’s license was undocumented, including by accessing database information from a state motor vehicle agency. To address these questions, Schlozman began researching the 16 states that had passed similar legislation by that point, and how they’d dealt with the issue.

“I started suggesting changes, and did a fair amount of rewriting of the legislation,” Schlozman said. “I helped develop a list of identity documents with others in the coalition that a person without lawful immigration status could use to say, ‘Hey, RMV, I am who I say I am.’ ”

This is one step in how the current law works. Undocumented immigrants must verify their identity to the Registry of Motor Vehicles through such accepted items as a foreign passport.

“That was the challenge of writing the bill – coming up with the list,” Schlozman recalled.

Another step in getting a license is to verify Massachusetts residency, which can be done through such documents as a lease or utility bill. Applicants must also show whether they have or do not have Social Security. The next steps are to pass the written test of the rules of the road to qualify for a learner’s permit, and to successfully take the road test for a license.

“Once you pass the road test, you’re good to go,” Schlozman said.

It’s not quite over after that: Massachusetts requires motor vehicle insurance for car owners and drivers alike.

Before passage of the Work and Family Mobility Act, it was impossible for undocumented immigrants to legally get behind the wheel, Schlozman said. Now it’s a different situation: “Driving with insurance is an aspect of ‘driving without fear’ – which has been one of the mantras and slogans of our campaign for many years now,” she said.

Should an undocumented immigrant with a license get into an accident, she added, there’s not necessarily a concern about law enforcement accessing immigration status unless criminal activity is involved in the incident.

Although Schlozman said that last year’s ballot question opposing the Work and Family Mobility Act did not prevent its implementation, it did result in a months-long effort from JALSA to rally support for the legislation in the Jewish community and beyond. Schlozman described her role in the legislation as policy-oriented, but others in JALSA took part in outreach to voters, including the organization’s president and CEO, Cindy Rowe.

“The ballot campaign came as a complete surprise to us,” Rowe said. “We thought once the law was passed, the law was passed. All of a sudden, there was a group of very conservative voters in the state who felt the need to challenge this on the ballot. We, of course, sprung into action.”

She noted, “Definitely, immigration runs very deeply and is closely related to Jewish values. A lot of people wanted to get involved very quickly.

“We were on the side of truth,” Schlozman said. “What we said was truthful about what the effect of the legislation would be.”

Now it has taken effect, and although the number of undocumented individuals applying for licenses can’t be divulged, the JALSA attorney can report an uptick in interest over the first four weeks of the law.

“Permit applications are up very substantially,” Schlozman said.

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