State and local policymakers can take four key steps to better integrate immigrants, including immigrants who are undocumented, into the mainstream economy and foster community well-being, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Giving all residents access to economic opportunity would enable them to earn higher wages, spend more at businesses, and contribute more in taxes that are used to fund schools and other investments that are critical to a strong economy, the report finds. Harsh anti-immigrant policies, in contrast, harm workers and their children and likely weaken the economy.
“At a time when federal immigration policies are causing widespread harm, it is both sound policy and beneficial to states to pursue supportive polices that assuage fears and provide opportunity for all of their residents — regardless of their national origin, their religion, the color of their skin, or the language they speak,” Senior Policy Analyst Eric Figueroa of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained.
The report highlights four important ways Arkansas can connect people who are undocumented to opportunity:
- Driver’s licenses for immigrants who are undocumented can help immigrants who are undocumented get better jobs, make roads safer, and modestly reduce insurance premiums. Fourteen states and D.C. allow immigrants to get driver’s licenses regardless of their status.
- In-state tuition and state financial aid for college students who are undocumented will boost the skills and wages of the state workforce. Twenty-one states and D.C. have adopted “tuition equity” laws and 12 of these states plus DC offer state financial aid to students who are undocumented. This spring, the Arkansas legislature passed Act 844, which classifies certain immigrant students as eligible to receive in-state tuition at state-supported colleges and universities.
- Stronger labor law enforcement will ensure that all workers, regardless of immigration status, are paid what they earn and to help level the playing field for businesses and workers. Despite the economic costs of lost wages and tax revenues, many states have few designated investigators to enforce the minimum wage. For years, Arkansas lawmakers have filed anti- “wage theft” legislation that has repeatedly failed, despite being an important protection for all workers, not just immigrants.
- Expanding health coverage to all children, regardless of immigration status, can improve long-term health outcomes, high school and college completion, and long-term economic benefits for the child and for states and local communities. Only six states and D.C. offer health care coverage to all children. While Arkansas has yet to expand coverage to all children, regardless of status, the state did extend ARKids First coverage to all lawfully residing immigrant children in 2017.
People who are undocumented make sizable contributions to their state’s economy and finances, as well as their local communities. The nation’s estimated 11 million immigrants who are undocumented pay nearly $12 billion annually in state and local taxes, for instance. And households headed by a person who is undocumented pay a larger share of their income in state and local taxes than the top one percent of U.S. households. A 2013 study by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation found that immigrants generated $7 in business revenue and tax contributions for every $1 the state spent on services to immigrant households — easily a net benefit to the state economy.