Using Smart State Policy to Challenge the Anti-Immigrant
The key to challenging anti-immigrant movements in
the states is to respond with legislation that puts those promoting
anti-immigrant policies on the defensive. Their goal is to pit African-American
voters against Latinos, legal immigrants against undocumented immigrants, and
native-born workers against undocumented workers. So progressive leaders need to
promote policies that unite people across those divides, while highlighting that
those leading the anti-immigrant charge are actually against the interests of
working families of all races and immigrant status.
Anti-immigrant politics are focusing largely on
five main messages:
- Undocumented immigrants are
undercutting jobs and wages for native workers
- Immigrants aren't assimilating
or learning English
- Undocumented immigrants are a
burden to taxpayers and don't deserve public benefits
- Non-citizens are voting
illegally in large numbers
- Immigrants cause crime and are a
threat to national security
Progressives should highlight not only the
facts that refute these arguments, but also identify policies that undercut the
political alliances anti-immigrant forces are trying to build around these
myths. In this document, we highlight five sets of policies that can directly
challenge those right-wing views on immigrant and build alternative political
Wage Enforcement as Immigration Policy: Much of
the anger at immigrants derives from fears that sweatshops and
sub-minimum wage labor will undermine wage standards. Punishing
employers who violate wage laws will politically unite all workers, immigrant
and native alike, and actually strengthen the progressive political
base. If wage enforcement bills end up being attached to anti-immigrant
bills, many in the business lobby will break their current alliances with
Encouraging Immigrant Integration and
Naturalization: Progressives need to
emphasize that all available evidence shows that most are eager to become full
members of our communities if given a chance. Highlight policies that
help all immigrants better integrate, which will unite the interests of legal
and undocumented immigrants along with the members of their communities who
are already voting citizens.
Immigrants and Public Benefits: While state leaders and advocates need to
highlight the studies that show that undocumented immigrants actually pay
substantial taxes and use limited public benefits, they also need to demand
studies of the lost benefits to citizens and the costs to taxpayers from
onerous anti-immigrant enforcement rules. Progressive leaders can
show that broad-based benefits for all residents is the best investment in the
long-term and should demand that the federal government, which receives
billions in taxes paid by undocumented workers, share those revenues with
states to expand services for communities with heavy immigrant populations.
Voting Reform versus "Voter ID" Attacks: Given the complete lack of
evidence that non-citizens have illegally voted in US elections, progressives
need to challenge the voter ID requirements that are disenfranchising many
legal voters. While voter ID laws need to be defeated, the other part of
progressive mobilization should be demanding that voting be made easier,
through reforms like same day registration and voting by mail, for people who
do overcome these new barriers to proving their legal right to vote.
Immigrant Outreach as Public Safety and Anti-Terror
Policy: Most law enforcement groups
recognize that it is harder to protect victims of crime when millions of
people living in our communities are fearful of talking to the police when
they see a crime or are a victim of one. Progressive leaders can highlight
this reality by promoting policies that protect undocumented immigrant victims
and witnesses of crime when they contact the police and encourage community
policing efforts involving undocumented immigrant communities.
Each of these sets of policies emphasize why
better inclusion of immigrants in our communities, not sanctions, are the best
approach. The key for progressives is to use legislative campaigns to
actively focus public debate on areas where public attitudes towards immigrants
are most positive and to direct frustrations over the economy at the corporate
interests who are most responsible for stagnating family incomes.
Different policies will no doubt be promoted in
different states. In a number of states where heavy immigration in the
modern era is a relatively new phenomena, political leaders are facing more fear
among the public and may have to be more strategic in the policies they
promote. In such states, a heavier focus on issues like wage
enforcement policies may be the best options to create the greatest unity among
progressive constituencies. In other states where long-term immigrant
communities are politically mobilized in broader local alliances, passing more
proactive immigrant policies can help change the national narrative and
emphasize the strong pro-immigrant constituencies across the nation.
To read this document online with clickable links
to resources, go to:
General Resources for State Immigration Policies
The National Immigration Law Center has a list of
suggested pro-active measures in its Pro-Immigrant Measures Available to State or Local
Governments: A Quick Menu of Affirmative Ideas that contributed to
producing this document. The following additional documents and groups
have many resources that provide research and other documents to assist state
advocates in promoting good state immigration policies.
Wage Law Enforcement as Immigration Policy
While many advocates of "fighting illegal
immigration" claim to be doing so in the name of helping low-income workers, it
is remarkable that almost none of them are addressing the pervasive theft of
low-income worker wages by employers violating wage laws.
Advocates and progressive state leaders need to
emphasize legislation that highlight a few key points:
- Only a minority of those
working under illegal work conditions are undocumented immigrants;
- Our nation's systematic lack of
enforcement of wage laws has contributed to the dysfunction of our immigration
- The denial of employment rights
to such immigrants has only further undermined wage law enforcement, thereby
feeding more low-wage immigration.
In fact, cracking down on sweatshops and wage
violators would be one of the most effective deterrents to employers recruiting
undocumented immigrants. If all employers have to pay a decent wage, the
attraction of hiring undocumented immigrants would diminish tremendously. Since
going after employers who violate wage laws will politically unite all workers,
immigrant and native alike, cracking down on those abusive employers will
actually strengthen the progressive political base.
Where anti-immigrant politicians propose workplace
sanctions against immigrants, progressives should be proposing amendments that
highlight the broader illegality of broken wage and safety laws that undermine
workplace standards for all Americans. If anti-immigrant politicians resist such
laws, it will just emphasize that their concern for wage losses by low-income
workers is empty and is just a smokescreen for hatred and
nativism. And if every immigration bill is tied to proposals to
tighten enforcement of wage and employment laws, many in the business lobby will
break their current alliances with anti-immigrant politicians.
Core wage enforcement legislation should include:
Penalties for Wage Law Violations
- Enforce Wage Laws
Against Employers Using Undocumented Workers
Misclassification of Workers as "Independent Contractors"
Coordination and Funding by Enforcement Agencies
- Strengthen Legal
Services for Low-Wage Workers
Private Action Against Wage Law Violators
Discrimination Based on National Origin
- Make it a Crime
to Coerce Labor based on Worker's Immigration Status
- Stop Government
Purchases from Domestic and Overseas Sweatshops
Increase Penalties for Wage Law
In practice, the punishment for violating wage
laws and getting caught is usually at worst just paying what is owed or maybe a
small fine on top of that, but some states have created policies to
significantly increase the penalties for violating those laws.
- A number of states have increased penalties for
violations of the law, with New
York State establishing one of the toughest penalties -- up to
a $20,000 fine for repeat wage law violators. New York, Massachusetts and a
number of other jurisdictions also require that employers caught violating the
law must pay any legal fees of employees plus three dollars for every dollar
they illegally failed to pay them -- a much greater threat against
and incentive to employers not to violate the law.
- Right now a range of minor criminal offenses
by its owners or managers can deny a business an operating license or a public
contract, yet repeat violators of wage laws continue to receive operating
licenses and public contracts from most jurisdictions. However, responsible
contracting laws in a few states and cities now deny public contracts or
operating licenses to wage law violators. See Los Angeles Responsible Contractor
Ordinance for one example and San Francisco's city minimum wage for
provisions that authorize city agencies to revoke permits or licenses for
businesses that violate the law.
- Theft should be considered theft-- and a
number of jurisdictions are increasingly applying "theft of wages" statutes to
force employers to obey wage laws -- or face arrest and jail. In 2002,
the police department in Austin began threatening employers with
arrest if they did not properly pay their employees. Other jurisdictions,
including Denver and Phoenix have followed suit.
Many states already have "theft of wages" statutes on the books, so that all
that is needed is to enforce these provisions.See NELP's Using Criminal Theft of Service Laws To Enforce
Workers' Right to be Paid (NELP) for more on how to use such
criminal theft statutes or add them to a state's criminal code.
Enforce Wage Laws Against Employers
Using Immigrant Workers
In the words of New York's highest
court, applying state wage laws fully against employers of
undocumented workers is necessary since weak employment rights for
undocumented workers makes "it more financially attractive to hire undocumented
aliens [and] would actually increase employment levels of undocumented aliens,
not decrease it."
States like California and New York have established clearly that
their laws fully protect undocumented immigrants against retaliation when they
bring wage claims against employers.
- California SB 1818 declared that all legal remedies are
available to workers regardless of immigration status
- In Balbuena v. IDR Realty, the New York
Court of Appeals affirmed immigrant workers' full legal rights under that
state's employment laws.
The New York State Attorney
General issued a formal opinion
stating that federal precedent
“does not preclude enforcement of State wage payment laws on behalf of
To assure that workers understand
their rights at work, Iowa and Nebraska have laws requiring translators on the
job where more than 10% of the workforce is non-English-speaking. See Iowa Code section 91E.2.
Fight Misclassification of Workers as
States are also increasingly targeting the
employer tactic of misclassifying employees as "independent
contractors," which excludes workers from minimum wage,
prevailing wage, overtime, health and safety, and right to organize protections.
A February report by Cornell University
researchers estimated, for example, that 704,000 of the seven million
private-sector workers in New York state were misclassified as independent
contractors, costing the state $175 million in unemployment insurance taxes each
year and undermining those workers' rights.
Because of these problems, cracking down on
misclassification of independent contractors is becoming a priority for many
- Colorado this year enacted HB
07-1366, a law requiring construction sites to
make sure all workers, whether officially employees or "independent
contractors," are covered by workers' comp insurance.
- Minnesota enacted MN
Statute 181.723, which requires any independent contractor in the
construction industry be certified as a legislatime Independent Contractor by
- California was the first state to create a
“Joint Enforcement Strike Force” to focus on misclassification of workers as
"independent contractors." Under this system, tax and labor agencies
work together through an “Employment Enforcement Task Force" to perform
onsite inspections and audits of suspect small companies. In 2002, the Task Force collected $74 million in unpaid
wages and $10 million in payroll tax assessments.
Establishment of “joint employer”
liability is a powerful tool to protect low-wage workers. The New York
Attorney General’s office has aggressively pursued wage claims against joint
employers, including against large supermarket and drugstore chains for unpaid
wages due to delivery workers misclassified as independent
In Connecticut in 2007, a bill was
introduced that would have made it a criminal offense to hire undocumented
workers, but instead it was modified into a state law to go after all
employers who commit workers’ compensation premium fraud and cheat workers out
of benefits -- and the state out of taxes owed -- by not carrying compensation
at all. The new law, Pub. Act. No. 07-89
, provides that employers
who misrepresent the number or type of their employees for purposes of the
workers’ compensation system, can be issued a stop work order and ordered to
pay a fine of up to $1,000. Employers worried about unfair competition
supported the bill, and both legislative houses passed it unanimously.
Expand Coordination and Funding
by Enforcement Agencies
Whatever the penalties and the law, one key to
enforcement is making sure agencies are well-funded and creatively coordinate
their work for maximum effectiveness.
- One of the most obvious places for states to
beef up enforcement is making sure public money doesn't fund lawbreakers.
General has announced a program to crack down on government
contractors violating the state's prevailing wage law. Richard J.
Hobbs, executive vice-president of the Association of General
Contractors, a construction trade group, applauded the plan since it "keeps
your low-rate, less of a quality firm from coming in and underbidding"
legitimate, honest firms.
The California Targeted Industries
Partnership Program created focused enforcement projects aimed at the apparel,
construction, agriculture, restaurant and janitorial services
Strengthen Legal Services for
A number of states are increasing
funding for legal services, often a critical ally for low-wage workers seeking
to enforce their rights.
One key tool recently has been
requiring banks to pay a higher interest rate on funds deposited in special
accounts that lawyers use to temporarily hold money deposited by clients,
so-called Interest on Lawyer Account Funds (IOLA). Florida --the first
state back in 1981 to use interest on lawyer accounts to fund legal
services -- was also the first state in 2004 to require banks to
offer competitive interest rates on those accounts, increasing revenue from that
source from $22.7 million in fiscal year 2004-05 up to $67.3 million by the
following year. New York and other states have since joined Florida with
Since the federal Legal Services
Corporation bars funding for many immigrant workers, some states are working to
provide funding for immigrant workers denied fair treatment. One model is
New York's proposed A2289, which would provide legal services for
immigration and immigrant worker matters excluded from federally-funded legals
services. The program and services would be available to all immigrants
including migrant farm workers and immigrant day laborers, regardless of
Encourage Private Action Against Wage
To supplement often under-funded
public enforcement and legal services agencies, states can also encourage unions
and other workers advocates to help bring legal actions against wage law
One approach are laws modeled
on California's Labor Code Private Attorneys General
, which allows present and former employees to collect not only
damages for unpaid wages but also twenty-five percent of the civil penalties
that are normally paid to the state as well.
San Francisco’s city minimum wage ordinance
community groups and unions to file complaints, without having to show that
the workers not being paid are their members.
A number of states give
outside labor advocates access to non-work areas of employer property to
educate employees on their rights. Massachusetts, California
(see §20900 of the CA
Agricultural Labor Relations, Solicitation by Non-Employee Organizers
regulations) and a few other states give farmworker advocates access to
agricultural fields; states including California, Colorado and New Jersey
require mall owners
to give union organizers,
as well as others, access to sidewalks, parking lots and interior public
spaces. And the City of Hartford
enacted a law giving
the general public access to outside areas of certain large retailers. States
should enact broader access laws to assure that labor advocates can access
employer property to educate all workers on their rights, since such
worker-to-worker education is the most effective means to encourage workers to
Prevent Discrimination Based on National Origin
Since government crackdowns against undocumented
immigrants will likely lead to a more general backlash against all latino and
immigrant workers, states can take actions to protect their residents against
Illinois's recently enacted HB 1744 prohibits employers from enrolling in
any Employment Eligibility Verification System (E-Verify), because of the poor
quality of its databases. The bar on using E-Verify will continue until
the Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security databases
are able to make a determination on 99% of the tentative nonconfirmation notices
issued to employers within 3 days, unless otherwise required by federal law. http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/95/HB/09500HB1744.htm.
To directly deal with discrimination against
legal immigrant workers, New York's proposed A4603 would amend the state executive law and
the civil rights law to clearly outlaw discrimination because of alien status.
Make it a Crime to Coerce Labor based on
Worker's Immigration Status
States are increasingly protecting
the victims of human trafficking and punishing employers and others who
coerce immigrants to perform labor under threat.
- California's AB 1278, enacted this year, would void as
contrary to public policy any labor contract provision that deducts from a
person's wages the cost of emigrating and transporting that person to the U.S.
- In 2006, Colorado enacted SB 06S-005, which makes it a felony to coerce
labor by threatening to destroy documents relating to a person’s
immigration status or by threatening to notify law enforcement that a person
is in violation of federal immigration law. In 2007, Virginia
enacted a similar bill, HB
1921, which provides that any person who confiscates,
withholds or threatens to withhold any actual or purported passport,
immigration document or other government identification document and thereby
extorts money, property, or pecuniary benefit is guilty of a Class 5 felony.
- Oregon's HB 2020 would similiarly expand the crimes of
coercion and theft by extortion to include threatening to report person's
While states cannot change the bad trade policy
that has undermined the economy of Mexico and other countries where immigrants
are leaving for the U.S., states do have the power through their own purchasing
decisions to help end the global sweatshops that drive undocumented immigration.
California, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, along with
sixty cities, counties and school districts, have changed their procurement policies to ban government
purchases from contractors
violating internationally recognized labor rights.
General Resources: Wage Enforcement as
- Progressive States, Pervasive Violations of Wage Laws -- and What
States Can Do About It
- Progressive States, Cracking Down on Wage Law Violators
- National Employment Law Project, More Harm Than Good: Responding To States’
Misguided Efforts To Regulate Immigration
- Brennan Center, Enforcement of Workplace Rights
- AFL-CIO, Executive Council Statement on Immigration
- Drum Major Institute, Principles for an Immigration Policy to Strengthen
and Expand the American Middle Class
- National Immigration Law Center, State and Local Proposals That Punish Employers
for Hiring Undocumented Workers Are Unenforceable, Unnecessary, and Bad Public
- List of Organizations involved in wage
law enforcement, participants in a 2005 wage enforcement conference sponsored
by NELP and the Brennan Center for Justice.
Research Studies on Enforcing Wage Laws
Immigrant Integration and Naturalization
While anti-immigrant forces raise fears that
recent immigrants resist integration into American society, progressives need to
emphasize that all available evidence shows that most are eager to become full
members of our communities if given a chance. Studies by research groups
like RAND have shown that latino immigrants, for example,
are assimilating into the economy at the same rate as earlier waves of
Politically, progressives can promote legislation
that helps all immigrants better integrate, which will unite the interests of
legal and undocumented immigrants along with the members of their communities
who are already voting citizens. Especially if anti-immigrant
politicians oppose policies that help legal immigrants, it will emphasize to the
voting parts of those communities that all the rhetoric about the problem being
"illegal" immigration is empty and the bigotry is aimed at the whole ethnic
Illinois has created the most comprehensive "New Americans
Policy" involving business, religious and community leaders to expand
English language programs, welcome centers, jobs programs and document
translation programs aimed at new immigrants, but a number of states have
promoted a range of legislation to better integrate new immigrants.
Core immigration integration and naturalization
legislation should include:
- Expand Access
to Adult English Classes
Government Offices to Assist the Naturalization Process for Aspiring
In-State Tuition for All State Residents
Immigrants from Private Discrimination
- Prevent Abuses
Committed by “Notarios” and Others Hurting Immigrants Through Fraud
Expand Access to Adult English Classes
Despite claims by anti-immigrant groups that new
immigrants don't want to learn English, all evidence shows that there are
millions of immigrants literally begging to learn English, only to find
insufficient classrooms teaching in their communities. Many business
leaders recognize that problem and want better language training programs,
diverging sharply from anti-immigrant groups wanting to deny such help.
A number of states have proposed directed funding
to help new immigrants learn English and integrate more easily into their
- Illinois's SB 1446, also know as the "We Want to Learn
English Initiative" was passed by the legislature this October and requires
that the Illinois Community College Board establish and administer a program
to provide resources for lawful immigrants and refugees to learn English in
order to move towards becoming full members of American society. The
initiative provides for an annual budget of $25 million, with no less than
half of the funds appropriated for the Initiative being disbursed through
community-based, not-for-profit organizations, immigrant social service
organizations, faith-based organizations, and on-site job training programs.
- Minnesota's HF 979 / SF 923 will increase funding for affordable
and accessible adult English language instruction. The additional money
proposed was passed in the Omnibus Education Finance Bill.
- New York's proposed A2289 would establish a program to provide
resources to community-based organizations to facilitate adult English and
civics instruction, along with assistance with the citizenship process.
Create Government Offices to Assist the
Naturalization Process for Aspiring Citizens
By promoting legislation to help legal immigrants
get citizenship, state leaders can focus the debate on the positive feelings
voters have about new Americans becoming integrated members of our nation.
States and local governments can take action to assist naturalization -- from
improving registration procedures at driver licensing offices and other
government offices to assisting in the naturalization process. In
California, Santa Clara County early on developed an Immigrant Relations and Integration Services
(IRIS) to support immigrant integration programs in the county, serving as
one of the inspirations for Illinois' Office of New Americans, which is a
leader among the 11 states that have offices to tailor
services to immigrants and help with naturalization. Massachusetts operates an
Office for Refugees and Immigrants that also
assists in citizenship efforts.
States can create government offices or fund
organizations to assist immigrants to successfully complete the process of
obtaining U.S. citizenship through naturalization. A few recent proposals
- California's AB 930 would develop and fund a
naturalization and civic participation program to assist eligible immigrants
through the naturalization process and to help them integrate into the
economic and civic fabric of the state
- Connecticut's SB 926 would appropriate funds for a community
organization to develop and implement a state-wide customized training program
to assist legal immigrants in obtaining their United States citizenship.
- Iowa's SF 2269 would have the department of workforce
development establish immigration service centers that offer one-step services
to deal with the multiple issues related to immigration and employment.
- New York's A9078, the Access for New Americans Act
includes civic and English classes, along with assistance with immigration
requirements and related legal
States can also enact refundable tax credits
for naturalization expenses :
- Indiana's SB 240 would create an Adult Education Tax
Credit which would give employers a credit of up to $300 per employee and up
to $5,000 per year for payment of an employee's expenses related to adult
education programs, including citizenship training.
- Minnesota's HF 747 would create a specific
Citizenship Income Tax Credit.
- Texas's HB 240 would require school districts to
grant students an excused absence from school when appearing at a governmental
office to complete paperwork required in connection with the student's
application for U.S. citizenship or to take part in a naturalization oath
States can also improve government communication
and coordination over programs promoting immigrant integration:
- Illinois's SB 1746 enacted the Latino Family Commission
in 2007, which will advise the Governor and General Assembly, as well as work
directly with State agencies to improve and expand existing policies,
services, programs, and opportunities for Latino families.
- Minnesota's HF 1315/ SF 1081 would create a Minnesota Commission on
New Americans to study ways to eliminate under-use of immigrants in the
state's work force, develop business opportunities for immigrants; use the
immigrant community to enhance and expand state trade relations with other
countries, improve opportunities for the study of English as a second
language, increase the efficient use of state programs and services, and take
other steps to improve the economic and social conditions of immigrants in the
Provide In-State Tuition and Scholarships for
All State Residents
One key to integrating the children of new
immigrants into our communities is making sure they can get a college
education. Nebraska in 2006 joined nine other states
that have passed laws to provide the in-state tuition rate to undocumented
immigrants who attend state colleges and universities. This year, the
Connecticut legislature voted to do so as well, although unfortunately the
Governor in that states vetoed the bill. States across the country are promoting
such in-state tuition or DREAM Acts: Arizona's HCR 2029, Arkansas's SB 981, Connecticut's HB 5329/HB 5656, Idaho's HB 220 , Minnesota's HF 722/ SF 653, New Jersey's A4032, North Carolina's H1183, Rhode Island's HB
5308, Iowa's HF 470/ SF 267.
States can also ensure access to state or locally
funded financial aid and scholarships,
regardless of immigration status:
- California's SB 1, which was enacted by the legislature but
vetoed by the governor, would have make California high school graduates
who meet the non-resident in-state tuition requirements eligible for a fee
waiver at community colleges and enable them to participate in the Cal Grant
state financial aid program.
- New York's A4653 would expand scholarship opportunities
for immigrant students
Protect Immigrants from Private Discrimination
To prevent local discrimination against
immigrants, legislation should add immigration and citizenship status to the
grounds of prohibited discrimination under fair housing laws and/or prohibit
cities, counties, and landlords from making inquiries into immigration status.
- California AB 976 was enacted in October to block local
ordinances that promote housing discrimination against immigrant community
members; the bill would also prohibit landlords from making inquiries about
immigration status or request documentation in most cases.
- Texas's HB 2676 would similarly prevent any political
subdivision from requiring that a landlord refuse to lease to a prospective
tenant solely on the basis of their immigration status and would prohibit
landlords from inquiring into a tenant's immigration status.
Prevent Abuses Committed by “Notarios” and
Others Hurting Immigrants Through Fraud
A number of states are taking action to stop the
abuses committed by “notarios” and others who harm community members by engaging
in fraudulent and unauthorized practice of law.
- California's AB 630, which was enacted in 2006, requires a
person acting as an immigration consultant to submit to and pass a background
check by the Department of Justice and FBI. It also requires a registration
with the Secretary of State.
- Kentucky's HB 166, also passed in 2006, prohibits any
person in the business of providing immigration assistance from giving legal
advice and requires registration with the Attorney General's Office before
providing immigration assistance services in the state. The bill also
requires providers to post signs that specify that the provider is not an
attorney and may not give or accept fees for giving legal advice.
- Indiana's SB 445, passed in 2007, requires any
non-attorney who advertises as a notary public or notario publico to include a
disclosure stating that the person is not an attorney with criminal penalties
for failure to do so or accept payment for legal advice.
- Similar proposals in other states
include New York's A3235, South Carolina's H 3025, Illinois's SB 0546, Texas's HB 906, and Wisconsin's AB
Other General Resources on Immigrant Integration
Immigrants and Public Benefits
Many of the attacks on immigrants focus on the
idea that undocumented immigrants use more benefits than they pay in
taxes. Advocates first need to highlight the multiple studies that have shown that even when you total up the limited
services for which they do qualify -- public school education and emergency
medical care for example -- undocumented immigrants pay significantly more in
state taxes than states spend on those benefits. The Texas State Controller, for
example, estimated that undocumented immigrants added over $17 billion to the
state economy and paid over $400 million more in taxes than they received in
benefits from the state.
Progressives need to emphasize three key points
beyond educating the population:
- When draconian ID requirements
are imposed, legal citizens, not undocumented immigrants, lose more benefits
under such policies;
- The costs of trying to screen
out undocumented immigrants is higher than their current burden to taxpayers;
- Anti-immigrant politicians
have made the problem worse for state and local leaders by denying federal aid
for communities needing financial help from the federal level.
State leaders need to both
document the myths promoted by anti-immigrant forces, but also promote policies
that emphasize the ways investing in public services reflects our common values
and the long-run economic benefits from such investments.
Core immigrants and public
benefits legislation should include:
Studies Showing Taxes Paid and Economic Contributions by Immigrants, Both
Legal and Undocumented
- Measure Costs of Burdensome ID Rules for Receiving
- Protect Privacy
of Users of Public Benefit Programs
- Make Services
Available to Immigrant Victims of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking
- Provide Health
Care for Immigrant Communities
Resolutions Asking Federal Government to Provide Funding for Local Immigrant
Commission Studies Showing Taxes Paid and
Economic Contributions by Immigrants, Both Legal and Undocumented:
To bring to light the real facts about the costs
and real benefits of immigration, a number of states are proposing
commission studies on economic role and contributions of immigrants, including
workforce participation, business or jobs generated, revitalization of
neighborhoods, and taxes paid.
- Virginia's HB 1673, passed in April 2007, creates the
Virginia Commission on Immigration as an advisory commission in the executive
branch. The purpose of the Commission is to study, report, and make
recommendations to address the costs and benefits of immigration on the
Commonwealth, including the impact on education, health care, law enforcement,
local demands for services and the economy, and the effect on the Commonwealth
of federal immigration and funding policies.
- Illinois' proposed SB
0059 would have required the Commission on Government
Forecasting and Accountability to conduct a study, compile data, and make a
report concerning the economic effects, both inflows and outflows, of illegal
immigration on the public and private economies of Illinois.
Such official studies will just reinforce the
message of other reports from California, Texas, Florida, New Mexico, Washington DC, Long Island, NY, and Arizona that new immigrants both pay taxes and
contribute significantly to our state economies. See also:
Measure Costs of Burdensome ID Rules for
While the justification for passing these
anti-immigrant laws was to save taxpayer money, follow-up studies have shown
little evidence of any savings -- hardly surprising since there was little
evidence beforehand that undocumented immigrants were receiving many benefits.
ID requirements are usually so extreme that many legal citizens are turned away.
For example, Colorado passed a law that prevented state agencies from even
accepting a U.S. passport as documentation to obtain a driver's license, leading
to the irony that one of the state's main proponents of the bill saw his daughter rejected for a license. The sad result,
as the National Immigration Law Center notes, is that
"U.S. citizens are less likely than noncitizens to have the documents required
by the new verification laws." (p.7) While the law was amended to allow
passports and a few other documents, the law has still inflicted burdens, both
financial and personal on citizens of the state. In fact, one study in Colorado
found that the law there was costing the state an additional $2 million in
increased administrative costs without any identifiable savings.
States should promote similar studies in their states.
But if such ID rules save the taxpayers little
money, the impact on legal residents and
citizens can be severe. This was highlighted when the federal government imposed
new identification requirements for new applicants for Medicaid. The result? Initial estimates were that 1.2 to 2.3
million citizens lacked the documents required by the new rules and were in
danger of losing coverage. Follow-up studies by both the Center for Budget and
Policy Priorities and the Government
Accountability Office (GAO) found that Medicaid rolls declined in 44
states after Congress imposed the new requirements -- and most of those losing
coverage were legal residents eligible for coverage but unable to produce the
necessary documents. For other social programs covered by the states with the
new anti-immigrant laws, confusion and fear led people to lose other
benefits. States should commission their own studies to show the
impact of benefit ID laws in hurting legal residents of their states.
Protect Privacy of Users of Public Benefit
State leaders can highlight the lost privacy that
anti-immigrant witchhunts engender by pursuing policies and resolutions that
limit questioning and recording of immigration status by city and state
agencies, except where required by federal law.
- One model is New York a3161 which would amend the New York City
Charter to add that no city employee may disclose information as to the
immigration status of individuals who use services provided by the city and
limits disclosure of confidential information to only when law enforcement has
- Texas HB 2381 would prohibit an officer,
employee, or medical staff member of a general hospital to inquire as to the
immigration status or nationality of a person who needs or receives emergency
services, unless the information is necessary to provide those services to the
Make Services Available to Victims of Human
One area where the public has great sympathy for
extending public benefits is to immigrant victims of trafficking, domestic
violence, and other serious crimes.
- Florida HB
7181, California's SB
1569, North Carolina SB
1078 all makes public social service benefits available to
victims of trafficking, domestic violence, and other serious crimes.
- Hawaii HCR 204 proposed a resolution to have
the state investigate existing obstacles, in statute, rule, or policy, that
limit or deny benefits to victims of trafficking and assist such victims in
attaining needed services.
Provide Health Care for Immigrant Communities:
Many states are providing health care to
immigrants, both legal and undocumented, recognizing that long-term investments
in education and health care will pay off with a more skilled and healthy
workforce in the future. More than half of the states spend their own funds to provide services to at
least some immigrants ineligible for federal services.
- Illinois' AllKids program extended
coverage to children of all income levels, regardless of immigration status.
It was joined by Massachusetts, Hawaii, New York and California as those
states continued to expand health benefits for many immigrant children. The
state of Washington this spring extended health coverage to all children in
families up to 250% of the federal poverty line (moving to 300% in 2009),
again regardless of immigration status.
- Rhode Island proposed SB
415 would extended health coverage to children who do not meet
citizenship or alienage requirements under title XIX of the Social Security
- In California, even Republican Governor
Schwarzenegger has said he wants to include all undocumented immigrants
in any plan for universal access to health care, because as he argued in a speech announcing his own plan in January,
"the decision for my team was do we treat them in emergency rooms at the
highest cost available or we do it right and do it efficiently?"
- Rhode Island's HB 5412 would provide assistance to lawfully
present immigrants who are ineligible for federally funded services (health
coverage, food stamps, and/or subsistence income) due to arbitrary
restrictions such as the five-year waiting period.
- Texas HB 1302 would establish eligibility for
nonemergency public health benefits provided by a municipality, county, or
public hospital for a person who would otherwise be ineligible due to their
immigration status, provided that only local money is used to provide the
Pass Resolutions Asking Federal Government to
Provide Funding for Local Immigrant Services
Since the federal government collects many taxes
from undocumented immigrants, including social security taxes for which the
federal government has to pay no benefits, a number of programs have
been designed to funnel those revenues back to the
states. In fact, federal policies continue to deny help even
for legal immigrants who clearly pay taxes. A clear example is the failure to include funding for legal immigrant
children in the recent SCHIP bill approved by Congress. Programs like
the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program
(SCAAP) were also designed to channel some of those increased
tax revenues to states that are particularly impacted by new immigrants to help
them deal with increased costs that local tax revenues might not fully cover,
yet the Bush administration and others have argued for cutting its funding.
Recognizing that the federal government collects
taxes from immigrant workers without providing funds even for federally-mandated
health care services, proposed California SJRX1 asks the Congress and President of the
United States to enact legislation that would provide full reimbursement for the
costs of providing federally mandated health care services to anyone, regardless
of immigration status.
Voting Reform versus "Voter ID" Attacks
The charge that undocumented immigrants voting is
a major problem is, unfortunately, a place where anti-immigrant forces are
mobilizing around a big lie, stoking hate on pure fiction.
The cynical goals of voter identification laws
pushed by the right-wing is highlighted by a basic fact -- there is zero
evidence that undocumented immigrants are illegally voting. At its "Truth about Fraud"
website, for example, the Brennan Center for Justice has
highlighted that fraud is a red herring used by the right-wing to disenfrachise
legal voters through abusive identification rules. This is emphasized by
the national scandal of the Bush Administration firing U.S. Attorneys, in part because
some of those appointees refused to go along with partisan pressure to
generate non-existent cases of voter fraud. Five years of
investigations revealed no real evidence of voter fraud
by an administration as determined to find non-existent voter fraud as
non-existent WMDs in Iraq.
Progressive leaders should be alarmed, though,
that while little fraud has been stopped, the result in states that have
implemented voter ID rules has been a sharp drop in voting by legally eligible
voters, the real goal of right-wing campaigners promoting the myth of
undocumented immigrants voting. A report prepared for the federal Election Assistance
Commission found that in states with voter ID requirements,
blacks were 5.7% less likely to vote and Hispanics appeared to be 10%
less likely to vote under those requirements.
Such voter ID laws need to be defeated, but the
other part of progressive mobilization should be demanding that voting be made
easier for people who do overcome these new barriers to voting. Core
voting reform legislation should include:
Hearings or Create Commissions to Expose the Lack of Immigrant Voter
- Pass Deceptive
Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Acts
- Pass Laws to
Make Voting Easier Once People do Manage to Register to Vote
Hold Hearings or Create Commissions to
Expose the Lack of Immigrant Voter Fraud
State leaders need to expose the fraud in
anti-immigrant myths about non-citizens voting in large numbers and use
such hearings or commissions to refocus debate on the real ways voters are
disenfranchised by burdensome election rules and tactics used to suppress the
Pass Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation
Too often, we see have seen
campaigns to intimidate voters based on their race or use other tactics to
suppress the vote of legal voters. States need Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation
Prevention Acts to create strong penalties for groups that suppress
voter turnout through deception and intimidation. If anti-immigrant
forces are going to raise fraud as a justification for voter ID bills, then
progressives should demand through proactive legislation and amendments attached
to their bills that all forms of fraud, deception and intimidation be removed at
the ballot box.
Pass Laws to Make Voting Easier
Once People do Manage to Register to Vote
In states moving to create
greater hurdles to registration and voting are enacted, progressives need to
demand simplification of the process once people produce the necessary ID.
In order to give people
a longer window to vote at their convenience, voters should be allowed to sign
up as permanent mail-in voters, a reform enacted in Colorado
just this year following
states like Minnesota, Washington, California and Oregon (the last of which
has full vote by mail or all elections.)
States also need to reform
database procedures, following best practices
to improve voter
matching and verification after registration to avoid problems when voters
show up on election day.
Immigrant Outreach as Public Safety and
While anti-immigration forces seek to paint
immigrants as a dangerous criminal force, the facts show that immigrants commit
fewer crimes than the general population. But more importantly, most law
enforcement groups recognize that it becomes harder to protect victims of crime,
particularly immigrants themselves, when millions of people living in our
communities are fearful of talking to the police when they witness a crime or
are a victim of one. As a report endorsed by the Major Cities Chiefs
Association, representing the police departments of New York City, Los
Angeles, Houston and city departments serving over fifty million residents
Immigration enforcement by local police would
likely negatively effect and undermine the level of trust and cooperation
between local police and immigrant communities. If the undocumented
immigrant's primary concern is that they will be deported or subjected to an
immigration status investigation, then they will not come forward and provide
needed assistance and cooperation...Such a divide between the local
police and immigrant groups would result in increased crime against immigrants
and in the broader community, create a class of silent victims and eliminate
the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing
future terroristic acts.
Progressive leaders can frame reasonable
treatment of immigrant communities as critical to promoting public safety.
Core immigrant outreach for public safety and
anti-terror policy legislation should include:
Community Policing in Immigrant Communities
Immigrant Victims and Witnesses to Crimes, Particularly of Domestic Violence
- Issue Licenses
- Prevent Racial
Profiling of immigrants
- Condemn Private
The broadest message by progressives must be that
we don't improve public safety by making immigrants afraid to cooperate with the
police or anti-terror authorities. States should condemn turning every police
officier or, even worse, every social worker into a potential immigration
enforcement agent, because it undermines community policing and other known
effective law enforcement approaches.
Rhode Island HB 5237 and New Hampshire HB 404 would prohibit the use of state and local
law enforcement agencies for the purpose of detecting or apprehending persons
whose only violation of law is that they are persons of foreign citizenship who
are in violation of federal immigration
- Major Cities Chiefs Statement on Immigration-
Police chiefs statement on need for separation of local law enforcement and
federal immigration enforcement
- Appleseed, Forcing Our Blues into Gray Areas: Local Police
and Federal Immigration Enforcement
- Vera Institute of Justice, Strengthening Relations between Police and
Immigrants and Building Strong Police-Immigrant Community
Relations: Lessons from a New York City Project
- CAUSA, Collaboration with federal immigration enforcement
hurts community policing
- National Immigration Forum, Success Story: Santa Ana Uses Community Policing
Methods to Reduce Crime in Heavily Immigrant Area,
Today, Chiefs, mayors order local cops: Leave catching
illegal immigrants to the feds
- Institute for Policy Research, Community Policing and "the New Immigrants:"
Latinos in Chicago prepared for the National Institute of Justice, U.S.
Department of Justice (2002)
- National Immigration Forum, Police in "New Immigrant" States Say Asking Them
to Enforce Immigration Laws Would Harm Public Safety
Protect Immigrant Victims and Witnesses to
Crimes, Particularly of Domestic Violence
Progressive leaders can ally with both law
enforcement and victims' rights groups by promoting policies that protect
immigrant victims of crime when they contact the police and by encouraging
community policing efforts in immigrant communities.
To encourage victims and witnesses of crime,
particularly those suffering from domestic violence, to come forward, state need
clear policies to limit police inquiry into their immigration status. Rhode
Island HB 5237 and SB 735 are both designed to promote
immigrant assistance in crime fighting by protecting the identity
of such immigrant victims and witnesses of crime.
State leaders need to emphasize that top law
enforcement officials are on record supporting such drivers license
identification programs as a way to bring undocumented immigrants out of the
shadows and better track state residents for law enforcement purposes. Top
officials who have publicly supported these measures include former New
York police chief William Bratton, who now heads Los Angeles' police
force, and anti-terror officials like Richard A. Clark,
the counter-terrorism czar for Presidents Clinton and Bush. Eight states do not require proof of
legal status to obtain a driver license: Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan,
New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, with none of them suffering ill
effects to public safety.
There are a number of models for removing bars to
undocumented immigrants receiving licenses:
- New Jersey A2607 would permit the state to issue
driving privilege cards, with the same privileges and legal responsibilities
of a basic driver's license, to persons who cannot prove ID or lawful presence
in the country.
- New York a3755 would allow for foreign passports,
valid documentation issued by the United States citizenship and immigration
services and consular photo identification documents to be acceptable proof of
identity for a license and would further provide that eligibility for a
license not to be conditioned on a particular immigration status.
- California SB 60 would require compliance with the REAL
ID Act of 2005, but would also require the Department of Motor Vehicles to
issue a driver's license that permits driving, and is not acceptable by a
federal agency for federal identification or for any other official purpose,
to an applicant who does not provide valid documentary evidence of lawful
status under the federal act.
Many Americans are concerned about lost privacy
in all aspects of our lives, so another approach is to combine licensing laws
for immigrants with a more general policy denying the DMV the right to inquire
about a wide range of personal information, from legal status to gender
orientation, as long as the person can produce some reasonable
Prevent Racial Profiling
Hysteria over immigrants encourages racial
profiling by law enforcement, so proposals like Texas HB 2428 / SB 150 would prohibit law enforcement
profiling based on a person's immigration or nationality
Condemn Private Vigilantism
A number of proposed bills condemn vigilante or
hate activity targeting immigrants:
- California AJR 16, adopted by both chambers in
2007, urges local, state, and federal government officials, when crafting
immigration policy that affects the United States-Mexico border, to take steps
to recognize and protect the human rights of immigrants, and publicly denounce
xenophobia and anti-immigrant bias as having no place in immigration policy.
- Arizona HCR 2011 is a proposed resolution
against civilian patrol groups in Arizona. The resolution opposes
individualized groups that are not formally affiliated with any federal or
state law enforcement agency and whose members take it upon themselves to
General Public Safety Resources