Immigrant-inclusive Policies Move Ahead

December 22, 2015

Adela de la Torre, 213-400-7822, [email protected]

In Cities and States, Civil Immigration Debates in Uncivil Political Climate

WASHINGTON — Civic engagement by immigrants and their allies has been effective in moving inclusive state and local policies and in defeating virtually all of the significant anti-immigrant proposals filed in state legislatures during the past two years, according to a new report by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC).

The report released today, “Immigrant-inclusive State and Local Policies Move Ahead in 2014-15,” demonstrates that the groundwork built by immigrants’ rights groups has helped preserve, implement and gain new ground for inclusive state and local immigration policies.

States continued to expand access to driver’s licenses, higher education, health care, and professional licenses for eligible immigrants regardless of their immigration status. Cities and counties adopted policies aimed at disentangling local law enforcement from federal immigration enforcement and offered access to legal counsel, health care, and municipal identification documents to their residents. States as diverse as Florida, Nevada, Utah, Nebraska, Hawaii, and California—and localities in Iowa, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Connecticut, and New York—have adopted policies that improve the daily lives of all residents, including immigrants.

“During the past three years, effective organizing and advocacy have built support for policies that make communities healthier, encourage youth to pursue their educational and professional dreams, and allow all drivers to be trained, tested, and insured,” explained Tanya Broder, NILC senior attorney and a co-author of the report. “This trend shows that despite the heated anti-immigrant rhetoric in the national debate, legislators and leaders closest to their communities understand that inclusive policies yield broad economic and social benefits.”

Increasing numbers of states are creating policies to improve highway safety by allowing all residents to apply for driver’s licenses. Hawaii and Delaware are the latest states to expand access to licenses. About 40 percent of the nation’s foreign-born population now resides in a state that provides access to driver’s licenses for all otherwise-eligible residents—an increase from 4 percent at the start of 2013.

Similarly, states are making higher education more affordable for students who meet certain criteria, regardless of their immigration status, by allowing them to pay in-state tuition rates or to qualify for financial assistance. Policymakers from across the political spectrum have recognized the social and economic benefits of this investment in immigrant youth. Oregon and Utah improved access to financial aid or scholarships, and threats to longstanding tuition equity laws in Texas and Kansas were thwarted, due to strong support and organizing by students, educators, and business leaders.

Despite the hostile rhetoric in the presidential campaigns, attempts by some politicians to challenge the president’s immigration policies, and some serious ongoing threats, states and localities have recognized the benefits of inclusive policies and are well positioned to influence the national immigration debate.

The report is available at

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