Despite Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric in Some Statehouses, Promising Developments in State Immigration Policy


While the anti-immigrant rhetoric of this fall's campaigns may point to more shortsighted state proposals in 2011, states and municipalities have already begun expanding educational access for undocumented students to attend state universities and community colleges.  This week, the California Supreme Court unanimously upheld the state's tuition equity law, which allows all high school graduates, including those who are undocumented, who have attended state schools for at least three years to pay the same in-state tuition rate paid by US citizen and legal permanent resident classmates and neighbors to attend higher education institutions.  The California decision, which overturned a lower court ruling and was authored by one of the court's most conservative justices, underscores the wisdom and validity of the state's 2001 tuition equity law.  Nevertheless, the law was challenged by a group of US citizens who alleged the law discriminated against students such as themselves who weren't California residents.  Ten other states have passed tuition equity laws and anti-immigrant groups have spearheaded lawsuits against both Texas and Nebraska's laws -  using many of the same arguments the California court dismissed in its ruling.  Some analysts also believe the court ruling will discourage challenges to similar laws in other states. 

California education officials and student groups applauded the court decision, citing the state's need to meet future workforce demands, lower government expenses, and increase its tax base.  Key studies, including one from the Rand Institute, have found that expanding education access for immigrants translates into greater tax revenue and lower levels of public benefit expenditures.  Notably, the Rand analysis found a 30-year old Mexican immigrant woman with a college degree will pay $5,300 more in taxes and use $3,900 less in government expenses each year compared to a counterpart who didn't complete high school.   

On the East Coast, New Haven, Connecticut Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. and Yale University officials announced plans last week to expand educational opportunity for all qualifying New Haven public high school graduates, including those who are undocumented, to attend the state's public colleges or universities, beginning next year.  The effort, dubbed New Haven Promise, joins at least 20 other college Promise programs nationwide and is funded by Yale University, which has committed up to $4 million per year for the program. 

New Haven has pioneered other common-sense initiatives that seek to integrate undocumented immigrant residents by taking immigration status out of the question with respect to accessing key city programs and services.  In 2007, the city unveiled a municipal identification card, which is available to all residents regardless of their immigration status.  In fact, the card was developed in response to a wave of crime targeting undocumented residents - known by criminals as 'walking ATMs' because they are often paid in cash, are frequently barred from opening bank accounts, and are therefore easy prey for theft.  The Elm City Resident Card allows city residents access to community centers and libraries and also provides a form of photo identification so cardholders can open bank accounts.  In the three years since the card's introduction, New Haven's immigrant neighborhoods have seen an 18% decline in crime rates and immigrant victims have become significantly more willing to report crimes to the police.

These state and local efforts will hopefully build even more support at the federal level as Congressional leaders with President Obama and Speaker Pelosi's support prepare to re-introduce the DREAM Act in the upcoming lame-duck session.  Despite growing levels of voter support across party lines for the DREAM Act -- 66% percent of voters support it, including 60% of Independent voters and 57% of Republicans according to a November poll --  Senate Republicans filibustered the bipartisan bill earlier this fall. 

Full Resources from thisArticle

Progressive States Network - Moving Forward: Elections Underscore Need for Progressive Immigration Policies
Migration Policy Institute Migration Information Source: Elections Alter the Political Landscape for Immigration Policy Debate
The Los Angeles Times -Illegal Immigrants Can Qualify for In-State College Tuition, Court Rules
The Rand Institute Center for Research on Immigration Policy- Closing the Education Gap: Benefits and Costs
New Haven Independent -Public School Kids Get a College 'Promise'
Federal Reserve Bank of Boston New England Community Developments Magazine -The Elm City Resident Card: New Haven Reaches out to Immigrants
National League of Cities - New Haven's Immigrant Integration Effort
Lake Research Partners Polling Summary -  Voter Support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Progressive States Network - U.S. Senate Filibusters DREAM Act Proposal to Legalize and Educate Immigrant Children

This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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