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Virginia Can Strengthen Its Economy and Communities With Four Immigrant-Inclusive Policies

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From the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis:

Virginia Can Strengthen Its Economy and Communities With Four Immigrant-Inclusive Policies
RICHMOND, VA — State and local policymakers can take four key steps to better welcome 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 policies 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. 
Virginia is one of only 21 states that have not enacted any of the four policies recommended in the report. This upcoming legislative session, state policymakers have the opportunity to change that:
  1. Driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status can help immigrants who are undocumented or under-documented 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.
     
  2. 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. With the freezing of enrollment in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and its threatened ending for current enrollees, Virginia’s half-measure on tuition equity is becoming less and less relevant.
     
  3. 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, Virginia has few designated investigators to enforce the minimum wage.
     
  4. 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.
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 1% of U.S. households. State and local policymakers should pursue policies that build economic opportunity and prosperity for all Virginia residents this upcoming legislative session.
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About The Commonwealth Institute
The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis provides credible, independent, and accessible information and analyses of fiscal and economic issues with particular attention to the impacts on low- and moderate-income persons. Our products inform fiscal and budget policy debates and contribute to sound decisions that improve the well-being of individuals, communities and Virginia as a whole. Visit www.thecommonwealthinstitute.org for more information.