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Measure Costs of Burdensome ID Rules for Receiving Benefits

Anti-immigrant Proposals Continue to Fail in Wake of Arizona’s Law

As this Dispatch will detail, after considerable media hype about Arizona-style bills sweeping across the nation, the reality is that from from Nevada to Arkansas to Massachusetts to Kansas and Rhode Island, anti-immigrant bills and ballot initiatives largely didn't move or failed to make this fall's ballot.  A key reason:  most state leaders and police chiefs recognize that requiring local governments to assume immigration enforcement responsibilities from the federal government will distract them from fighting violent crime and undermine trust with local residents that are essential to successful community policing.

Dreaming of a Better Tomorrow: In-State Tuition at the Forefront

States across the country are proposing in-state college tuition rates for undocumented students, a move mirrored by Congress' proposed DREAM Act, which was re-introduced at the federal level on March 25th. Currently ten states allow undocumented immigrants to enroll in state colleges and universities under the cheaper in-state tuition rate category: California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington. In recent years, anti-immigrant legislators sought to modify or repeal laws providing access to in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, though they've failed each time. This session, those efforts failed again in Utah and Nebraska. Kansas didn't even bring up repealing it.

Overview

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 so 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.  In Kansas, the Wichita Eagle highlighted that Kansas spent $1 million last year to comply with federal proof-of-citizenship requirements for the state SCHIP program and found only one undocumented immigrant using the program.  And as an article in USA Today emphasized, the reality is that anti-immigrant proposals may be discouraging families from getting early treatment for sickness or injuries, just increasing the cost when they show up at the hospital in an emergency. 

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.

See also:

New PSN Report: The Anti-Immigrant Movement that Failed

Today, the Progressive States Network is releasing a new report: The Anti-Immigrant Movement that Failed: Positive Integration Policies by States Still Far Outweigh Punitive Policies Aimed at New Immigrants.   The Executive Summary is available online, as well as the full report in PDF and HTML format.

State Immigration Project: Policy Options for 2009

Download a copy of the reports in PDF format here.  View the HTML version of the report here.