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Virginia, Other States Advance Immigrant-Inclusive Policies

August 12, 2020 at 10:00 AM

Even before COVID-19 and the deep recession, Virginia had taken steps to create a more inclusive state for people to live, work, and prosper, regardless of their immigration status. Other states are similarly removing barriers to equity, many of which make it even harder for immigrants to weather the pandemic and economic fallout. We highlight some of Virginia’s and other states’ actions below and urge states to do more.

Virginia’s advancements include:

  • Offering in-state tuition to students regardless of their immigration status, making Virginia the 22nd state plus the District of Columbia to do so. The move will help the thousands of students who graduate each year in Virginia and will likely boost the state economy by helping to create a better-skilled, higher-earning workforce.
  • Permitting Virginians, regardless of immigration status, to get driving privilege cards. That will give more people permission to drive after completing required training, obtaining insurance, and passing tests, ensuring that they know the rules of the road and making roads safer for all Virginians. The extra application and renewal fees also will bring much-needed revenue to state coffers. Virginia joins 15 other states plus D.C. in providing driving access regardless of immigration status.
  • Creating the Office of New Americans, which will provide an array of services to improve the financial and social health of immigrants, including help securing housing and employment and guidance on the citizenship process.
  • Preventing authorities from asking those subject or witness to crimes about their immigration status during criminal investigations and making a felony conviction or charge the threshold for contact between officials in jail, court, and Virginia’s Department of Corrections and those in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Before this change, any misdemeanor or felony triggered contact with ICE. Both changes will help create more trust between local law enforcement and immigrant Virginians.
  • Eliminating, pending the needed state appropriations, a longstanding Medicaid restriction that has kept health coverage out of reach for almost all immigrant adults in Virginia. While federal requirements bar people with lawful permanent resident status (green card holders) from getting Medicaid in their first five years with that status — an already rigid rule — Virginia also required them to demonstrate that they had worked for 40 quarters in the United States (in general, requiring them and/or their spouse to have worked for ten years). Though temporarily unfunded due to the recession, the measure eliminating this unusual and onerous requirement will let more longtime lawful permanent residents access much-needed health coverage.

Several other states have taken steps during the current crisis to help their residents regardless of their immigration status, thereby advancing an antiracist and equitable state response to COVID-19:

  • Some states, local governments, and philanthropic organizations provided short-term, limited supports to help many immigrants and their families whom federal economic relief measures excluded from certain benefits. For example, California and Oregon created and funded relief funds, Washington activated an existing emergency fund, and Connecticut created a rental assistance program, all of which will help people whose immigration status excludes them from unemployment insurance and federal stimulus payments.
  • California and Colorado expanded access to critical state Earned Income Tax Credits for many immigrants, as we explain here.
  • Twelve states including California and New York clarified that Medicaid can reimburse providers for COVID-related treatment of patients, regardless of their immigration status if they otherwise meet all Medicaid eligibility requirements. Illinois created a program similar to Medicaid to provide health services to seniors who don’t meet the Medicaid immigration-related requirements.

Still, state and federal policymakers need to take further steps. This crisis has made clear that states, in particular, have tremendous power to respond to this moment in equitable, antiracist ways that support all of their residents regardless of the language they speak, the color of their skin, or where they’re from.


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