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Inclusive State Policies Toward Immigrants Can Help Counter Nativist Federal Actions

August 21, 2019 at 2:00 PM

The Trump Administration has launched numerous efforts – often wrapped in inflammatory, racist rhetoric — to marginalize immigrants, including community raids and deportations, the separation of children from families at the border, and rules around who may come to and stay in this country that hearken back to white supremacist ideas of who belongs here. But as our new report explains, many states have taken a sharply different approach, adopting pragmatic policies designed to treat all people fairly and give everyone an opportunity to thrive.

This inclusive approach makes sense and holds true to our nation’s often-stated but not always respected ideals. With an inclusive approach, states can produce a more educated workforce, ensure that workers are paid fairly, and help pay for schools and other public services that form a strong foundation for broadly shared prosperity.

For example, they can:

  • Allow immigrants who are undocumented to obtain driver’s licenses. This would not only help them get better jobs but could improve public safety and modestly reduce insurance premiums. This year New York and Oregon became the 13th and 14th states to allow undocumented residents to obtain driver’s licenses.
  • Allow college-bound individuals, regardless of immigration status, to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities and obtain state financial aid. Over time this would boost the skills and wages of the state workforce. Illinois and New York achieved full tuition equity this year by extending access to state-based financial aid to students who are undocumented.
  • Strengthen labor law enforcement. This would help ensure that all workers, regardless of immigration status, are paid what they earn and help level the playing field for both businesses and workers in the state. Colorado, for example, enacted a measure this year making wage theft a felony and including migratory and foreign workers in the definition of employees protected by the new law.
  • Expand access to health coverage to all children regardless of immigration status. This can lead to better long-term health outcomes, greater high school and college completion, and long-term economic benefits for the child and for states and local communities. California began offering health coverage to all children regardless of immigration status in 2016; this year it extended that access to young adults under age 25.

While many states are making progress, some states are following in the Administration’s footsteps, by allowing police to stop and detain — without probable cause — anyone they suspect of being in the country without authorization, or deputizing local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law. These short-sighted policies create fear, reduce trust in law enforcement, and put public safety at risk. They also can generate unwanted legal battles and waste public resources.

To truly live up to our nation’s promise and build equitable, inclusive communities, state policymakers should treat all people with dignity and maximize the contributions of all their residents, regardless of where they were born or their immigration status. That’s the right approach for individuals, communities, and state economies.


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