State Immigration Project Update

March 14th, 2008

State Immigration Project Update

EVENT: Take Back America 2008 -- Hope Is in the States: Leading the Way on Health Care and Immigration Reform

Going to this year's Take Back America conference next week? Don't miss Progressive States Network's panel celebrating progressive state immigration reform! Take Back America, "The Progressive Convention," starts in Washington D.C. on Monday, March 17 and runs through Wednesday, March 19th. Progressive States Network has organized a panel for the opening day of the conference, March 17th at 11:45am, to discuss progressive immigration policies and strategies and bring attention to recent state immigration successes. The panel will feature Maryland Del. Victor Ramirez, one of the founders of the Maryland Legislature's New Americans Caucus, and Stephanie Luongo of SEIU; PSN's Executive Director, Joel Barkin, will moderate the panel. The session will also include a panel discussion of state health care reform that brings us closer to universal coverage, featuring Wisconsin Senator Spencer Coggs and Robert Kraig, the Program Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. 

HIRING: Immigration Policy Advocate

The Progressive States Network is seeking a highly motivated individual to work in a team approach as a policy advocate working on immigration

We are looking for an individual to both support individual immigration policy campaigns in states and help build a national legislative network that can institutionalize a humane and strategic immigration policy as a key part of multi-issue legislative coalitions across the country.

Interested in applying, or know someone who should?  Check out the Employment Opportunities page of our website at for more details, qualifications, and application instructions.

State Immigration Review

The Progressive Movement on Immigration in the States

Legislators from across the country came together in D.C. last week to announce the formation of State Legislators for Progressive Immigration Policy , supported by the Progressive States Network's State Immigration Project, to highlight the positive, progressive immigration policies being promoted in states across the country.

Texas Representative Garnet Coleman, Maryland Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez and Arizona Representative Kyrsten Sinema came together with PSN's Policy Director Nathan Newman, America's Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry and Dan Restrepo of the Center for American Progress Action Fund to emphasize that despite the media focus on anti-immigrant policies, there are many positive steps being taken by states in support of new immigrants.

"There is a real immigration movement out there that isn't just the right wing, anti-immigrant movement… and we are looking to tell that story," said Nathan Newman, PSN's Policy Director. "The media narrative is almost entirely wrong when it comes to the immigration debate," argued Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America's Voice, in ignoring the positive efforts by many state legislators in supporting new immigrants in their communities.  Examples of positive legislation cited by the panel included:

  • Ten states have passed the Dream Act to offer in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

  • A dozen plus states have enacted "New Americans" policies to assist new immigrants in learning English and seeking naturalization.

  • Illinois and a number of other states provide health care to tens of thousands of undocumented children. 

  • New York courts, like a number of other states, have granted undocumented workers the full right to sue under state labor laws like worker's compensation.

  • Protecting the availability of drivers licenses for all residents in Maryland, despite efforts to deny them to undocumented immigrants.

In fact, more states have enacted broad-based pro-immigrant laws than have passed the kinds of employer sanction bills that garner so much national attention.

As Texas Representative Garnet Coleman pointed out, most of the anti-immigrant forces and the mainstream media fail to note that "everybody pays for public schools" through property taxes and sales taxes and that "it hurts our economy to deny people the right to work."

This event and the formation of State Legislators for Progressive Immigration Policy emphasizes that political leaders, community groups, labor leaders and other advocates are increasingly working across state lines to strengthen statewide immigration efforts and lay the groundwork for needed comprehensive reform at the federal level.

Other Resources:

Washington State Launches New Americans Program

At the end of February, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed an Executive Order creating a New Americans Policy Council to promote strategies to help legal immigrants become naturalized, learn English language skills, and facilitate public-private partnerships to better integrate those new Americans into the fabric of the state's society and economy.  "The United States and especially Washington have flourished through the contributions of people who come to our nation with their skills and ideas," Gregoire said. "We need to take a more systematic approach to helping them succeed and become citizens."

Gov. Gregoire also recognized community leaders for their work to help establish the council, including Hate Free Zone. Hate Free Zone's Executive Director Pramila Jayapal said, "We know our democracy is strongest when all people can participate to the fullest, can provide their ideas, creativity and skills to our communities and economies and bring about a better world for all of our children."   The Washington state legislature took the additional step of providing $340,000 in funding to promote community economic development and build the capacity of organizations across the state to provide naturalization assistance to legal permanent residents. This policy will help strengthen the role of the estimated 135,000 legal permanent residents in the state eligible for citizenship and boost economic development through greater workforce and civic participation.

Washington is now joining with other states and local governments that have increasingly been taking action to assist naturalization -- from improving registration procedures at driver licensing offices and other government offices to assisting in the naturalization process.  Illinois' Office of New Americans has become a leader among the dozen plus states that have offices to tailor services to immigrants and help with naturalization.  The most recent other state efforts include:

  • In September, New York's Governor Spitzer announced a $6 million initiative to fund nineteen state organizations that help New York immigrants become United States citizens

Multiple studies by research groups like RAND have shown that new immigrant groups are assimilating into the economy at the same rate as earlier waves of European immigrants, but additional help will only speed the social benefits of full integration. The reality is that immigrants want to learn English, become citizens and join in their communities fully, but there is a shortage of English language classes across the country and not as much help as needed to assist in the citizenship process. 

Other Resources:

States Criminalizing Immigrant Workers through State "Identity Theft" Legislation

When Congressman James Sensenbrenner sponsored legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to make just being an undocumented immigrant a felony, progressive political leaders denounced the bill as misguided and hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across the country in protest. As U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid argued, "[The Sensenbrenner bill] makes criminals out of and demonizes a lot of hard-working people who are just trying to provide for their families. In my view the House bill is mean-spirited and un-American." 

That federal Sensenbrenner bill was defeated, but now a number of states, under the seeming cover of fighting "identity theft," are moving to adopt de facto the same policy of making felons out of millions of undocumented immigrant workers. The latest proposal is Iowa's HF 2610, which would make any use of a fake social security card to obtain a job a crime of "identity theft," even if no one owns that number. Other similar state proposals include:

The bills seem to be based on a model, MS SB 2957, approved by Mississippi back in 2006.  South Carolina's House and Senate passed SB 453 earlier this month on March 4th; it's now awaiting formal ratification, then transmission to the governor.

A Tool for Employers to Exploit Workers:  What this means is that undocumented immigrants will be driven even further underground with more incentive to stay "off the books" (and therefore much more vulnerable to exploitation) in order to avoid being automatically made felons. Employers will exploit that worker vulnerability, since they can hire immigrant workers, then threaten any who protest treatment on the job with being imprisoned and deported as a felon. In Kansas, for example, an employer tipped off immigration authorities that a worker injured on the job who filed a workers comp claim was undocumented. These kinds of "identity theft" laws will just hand a new tool to bad employers and enable them to manipulate state prosecutions in order to further intimidate their workforce and keep wages down.

Making Real Identity Theft Worse:  Real identity theft where anyone, undocumented or not, manipulates someone else's identity to hurt them financially is a real crime and should be prosecuted to the fullest. The problem with this new crop of "identity theft" bills is that they create a felony crime where there is no intent to hurt another person, no evidence of financial harm, and a crime even where the "victim" of the identity theft is a "fictitious person." 

And the problem with criminalizing non-existent harm to non-existent people is that it may actually encourage immigrant workers to turn to more sophisticated identity forgers using REAL identities, since those are harder to detect.  As new employer sanctions laws have been applied in Arizona, the Arizona Republic noted:

The push for more documents, especially with authentic numbers, is expected to spur more identity theft... "There is a good potential for an increase in identity theft and also an increase in the manufacture and sale of fraudulent documents," said Leesa Berens Morrison, director of the Arizona Department of Homeland Security.

Real Solutions Needed:  As the Arizona example shows, state enforcement of immigration laws usually has unintended consequences that worsen the situation, not just for undocumented workers but for legal workers as well. The best thing states can do is crack down on illegal low-wage sweatshops, an approach that raise standards for all workers.

Other Resources:

Immigration News in the States

Immigration News in the States

Looking for the latest news on immigration policy from across the country?  We're still collecting relevant news clips, sorting them by state and issue, but we're keeping our State Immigration Project Update Email uncluttered by housing this news on the web.  We've made a full list of noteworthy articles and editorials -- broken down by state and issue area -- online at Progressive States Network's State Immigration Project webpage.  We'll update this page as new articles come to our attention, so you don't have to wait two weeks for the next edition of the State Immigration Project Update to keep abreast of what's happening.

Immigration news articles by state

Immigration news articles by issue

Bills' Progress

With many states well into their legislative session, it's possible to report on the ultimate progress or failure of some state immigration bills.  Here's a brief round-up of a few. 

The passing of Georgia's "crossover day" – the 30th day of the legislative session, by which a bill must be passed by the chamber it was introduced in – on March 12th held some cause for celebration with 6 anti-immigrant bills left for dead.  However, some dangerous bills remained, including HB 978, which would allow police to confiscate vehicles of undocumented drivers who get into a traffic accident, and SB 350, which would make it a felony to drive without a license (Georgia has lawful presence eligibility requirements for their driver's licenses).

Idaho's Governor signed into law HB 366 earlier this month which further restricts driver's licenses to immigrants by requiring a license issued to legal immigrants to have expiration dates that match the expiration of their immigration documentation.

The latest word from Indiana is that the employer sanctions bill, SB 345, is dead.  Last night legislators from both the House and Senate met in a conference committee but were unable to agree on a final version of the bill.  This despite desperate efforts by the bill's sponsor, Sen. Mike Delph, to keep the bill alive with proposals to axe the $1.5 million funding the bill required and protect non-profit agencies from prosecution if they conceal or harbor undocumented immigrants. The Chairman of the conference committee has recommended that a summer study committee take up the issue of undocumented immigration, meaning SB 345 won't be moving this year.

In Mississippi, the legislature has sent a bill, SB 2988, to the Governor for his signature that would require companies to use E-Verify to check the citizenship status of their employees; unless the Governor vetoes the bill by Monday, it will pass into law. What makes this bill worse than other employer sanctions measures is the penalty. Not only could businesses lose state or public contracts and have their operating license revoked for up to a year, but those who violate the law – both employers and employees – would be charged with a felony.  For an employer who's a US citizen this means at least one year of jail time and/or a fine of at least $1,000; for an undocumented worker, it spells deportation. As the attorney for the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, Patricia Ice, pointed out, "This bill is a slap on the wrist to employers. It will be the employees that are sanctioned.The Clarion-Ledger has called the bill "politically pandering" and argued it "does more harm than good."

In Nebraska, Governor Dave Heineman's bill (LB 963) to take state benefits away from undocumented immigrants and their children was buried by the Legislature's Judiciary committee in late February.  The bill would have required state and local government agencies to verify lawful presence when state-residents applied for public housing, food assistance, professional and commercial licenses, and in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.  Revoking access to in-state tuition proved to be the most controversial portion of the law.  As Sen. Ernie Chambers pointed out, the issue isn't just about immigration: "All this is that there are people coming into their community and they're people they don't like, they don't like their complexion, they don't like their language, that's what it's all about." The Governor and the Attorney General even tried a last ditch effort to resuscitate the measure, calling on the public to contact their legislators to allow the bill forward; the public did call, but legislators say much of the public outreach was in support of their decision to kill the bill.

New Mexico's legislature approved the passage of a bill, SB 71, to criminalize human trafficking that would extend state benefits to victims and create a task force to further study the issue and make legislative recommendations.

Oregon's legislature codified (SB 1080) the Governor's Executive Order to make lawful presence a requirement for Oregon's driver's licenses, leaving only Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Utah and Washington as states that allow undocumented immigrants to receive driver's licenses.

Yesterday, Utah's Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. signed anti-immigrant bill SB 81 into law.  The bill was amended from its original version in early March, notably removing the provisions that would have ended Utah's access to in-state tuition rates – the same policy which proved to be the weakness of Nebraska's LB 963. What remained included allowing local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration laws, forbidding localities from engaging in "sanctuary" policies, and requiring public employers and their contractors to verify the legal status of workers.  Huntsman signed the bill even though he had earlier said he disapproved of states passing anti-immigration laws which he viewed as a federal issue.  His reasoning?  He thinks the "immigration problem" will be solved by Congress and a new administration before SB 81 goes into effect in July 2009.

While Virginia has passed three anti-immigrant laws so far this session, many, many more died, including bills that would have denied undocumented students access to higher education (HB 14), punished citizens who "benefit, service, status, or privilege" (HB 45), established English as the state's official language (HB 55), and seized the vehicles of folks driving without a license (HB 63, HB 178, HB 180, HB 433, HB 446, SB 515).  What did pass were companion bills, HB 820/SB 609, to require a check of citizenship on anyone taken into custody at a jail or correctional facility (whether or not the person has been convicted of a crime).  Also passed were two employment-related bills: one to suspend for at least a year a business' right to operate in Virginia if it's found to employ an undocumented worker (HB 926), and another to requires all government contractors to state in a written contract that they won't employ an undocumented worker (HB 1298).

Building Coalitions

On February 9, 2007, several thousand North Carolina progressives participated in the second annual "HK on J" -- Historic Thousands on Jones Street, where the North Carolina General Assembly is located. HK on J is the public face of a growing non-partisan, multi-racial, multi-ethnic movement for progressive policy change in North Carolina. The HK on J movement, spearheaded by the NAACP, features 82 partner organizations from a wide range of backgrounds, including organizations fighting for immigrant rights like El Pueblo, an advocacy and public policy organization for the Latino community in North Carolina. The coalition is united by their agreement to push a 14-point "People's Agenda" calling for good schools, better health care, collective bargaining for public employees, reform of mandatory sentencing laws and an end to the Iraq war, among other things. Point 12- Protect the Rights of Immigrants from Latin America and other Nations. As El Pueblo's then Advocacy Director, Marisol Jimenez McGee, said, "Today's event marks the beginning, and only the beginning of our commitment to unite our effort and combine our struggle for the changes that we need to see for our Latino immigrants and African American communities in North Carolina." 

Mississippi, too, presents another example of coalitions across race to support immigrant rights. The American Prospect highlighted this relationship by featuring an article about the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA!), an organization formed in 2000 by labor and African American leaders in the state, including State Representative Jim Evans the group's President. Last year, when Republican state legislators in Mississippi introduced more than 20 anti-immigrants bills, including employer sanction measures and English-only requirements, MIRA working with its state legislative allies defeated all of the proposed laws. 

Research & Polling Highlights

The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) has released a driver's license resource guide that will serve as a live document, adding new new materials to it when it comes.

The American Immigration Law Association (AILA) has just published Navigating the Immigration Debate: A Guide for State & Local Policymakers and Advocates to provide policymakers and advocates a roadmap to use as they steer through the policy minefields created by this trend.  The guide is organized around seven hot-button issues and designed to provide a basic orientation to the issues and an introduction to critical resources, including factual rebuttals to common myths, current legislative activity around the country, relevant litigation, and a compilation of additional resources from individuals and organizations with expertise to assist advocates.

The Brookings Institute released a Candidate Issue Index listing where the presidential candidates stand on immigration: Candidates on Immigration.

Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) recently released a new report, New Workers, New Voters: Why Massachusetts Should Recruit, Retain, and Train Newcomers. The report highlights the economic and workforce challenges that face Massachusetts and the importance of immigrant workers in meeting those challenges.

The Commonwealth Institute in Virginia released a new study entitled, "Fiscal Facts: The Tax Contributions of Virginia's Undocumented Immigrants." The study estimates that the 250,000 to 300,000 undocumented individuals in the Virginia pay between $145 million and $174 million in state income, sales, excise and property taxes, and their employers pay $4 million to $5 million in unemployment insurance taxes on their behalf. This study is the first time anybody in Virginia has put an estimate around the contributions.

The Pew Hispanic Center released a new report, The Hispanic Vote in the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primaries, examining the turnout, demographic characteristics, opinions and voting patterns of the Hispanic electorate in Democratic primaries and caucuses held so far in 2008. Where possible, it draws comparisons and contrasts between Latino, black and white voting patterns. It also compares Latino turnout in 2008 with turnout in 2004.

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) recently released a fact sheet title Five Facts About Undocumented Workers in the United States to challenge some common myths about undocumented workers and another, The Status of Latinos in the Labor Force, to provide essential date on the Latino labor force. 

A new fact sheet from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), Behind the Naturalization Backlog: Causes, Context, and Concerns, examines the issues surrounding the USCIS backlog on processing naturalization applications, including the fact that the new waiting time will prevent most naturalization applicants who filed after June 2007 from gaining US citizenship in time to register and vote in November.

The Public Policy Institute of California released a new report titled, Crime, Corrections, and California: What Does Immigration Have to Do with It?. The new study shows that immigrants are far less likely than the average U.S. native to commit crime in California. For example, among men ages 18-40 – the age group most likely to commit crime – the U.S.-born are 10 times more likely than the foreign-born to be in jail or prison. Even among non-citizen men from Mexico ages 18-40 – a group disproportionately likely to have entered the United States illegally – the authors find very low rates of institutionalization. Such findings suggest that longstanding fears of immigration as a threat to public safety are unjustified.


The State Immigration Project Update is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Coordinator
John Bacino, Operations Manager

Are there state immigration developments in your state?  Do you know about new immigration research?  Let us know by emailing us at

Progressive States Network - 101 Avenue of the Americas - 3rd Floor - New York, NY 10013
To unsubscribe, please reply to with "unsubscribe" in the title.