O’Ryan Johnson Wednesday, March 09, 2016

A Bay State sheriff is warning lawmakers that a proposal to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants goes against federal law and could cost the state in lost highway funds.

The idea, already backed by 50 legislators, was aired out at a Beacon Hill hearing yesterday, where Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson said it could backfire.

“What they’re saying is because there’s so many of you, we’re going to make unlawful behavior lawful,” Hodgson said. “When we start changing laws to accommodate the people who are violating them, we begin to erode the framework of this country.

“I was just in Washington and there is a lot of talk about what to do with sanctuary cities and ways to withhold grant money,” he added. “One of the things that I suggested was withholding federal funds for bridges and roads.”

Gov. Charlie Baker’s office said the administration does not support changes to the existing laws.

“Governor Baker favors existing law and federally compliant REAL ID legislation filed by the administration which ensures licenses are available for those who are legally eligible,” his spokesman William Pitman said.

Several immigrants testifying at a hearing of the Joint Committee on Transportation said that not having a driver’s license was a hardship.

“Not having a license has really affected me,” Sonia Terbullino, a Lawrence resident and store owner who came to America from Peru 12 years ago, said through an interpreter. “In the last 12 years, I have spent over $120,000 in taxis. In May 2009, I lost a van that had $12,000 in merchandise in it because I didn’t have a license and I couldn’t get it registered.”

The bill, filed by state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield) and state Sen. Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville), would allow driver’s licenses to be issued to state residents ineligible for Social Security numbers or who do not provide proof of immigration status.

The transportation committee ordered further study on the bill.

Applicants for Massachusetts driver’s licenses currently must present a Social Security number or an acceptable denial notice from the Social Security Administration, along with records including proof of acceptable visa status and a current foreign passport.

Amy Grunder, director of legislative affairs for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, estimated that there are 60,000 undocumented immigrants between the ages of 25 and 34 in the state who may be driving.