Integrating New Immigrants into our Communities: Smarter Policy, Smarter Politics

- New Americans Policies — Integration, Not Isolation
- Community Policing Creates Trust, Enhances Public Safety
- Demanding Feds Share Taxes Paid by Immigrants
- Conclusion

The general failure of anti-immigration politics at the polls in recent years has led many state leaders to switch their focus from anti-immigration initiatives to addressing the real challenge of integrating new immigrants into our communities and economy. This change of strategy is especially critical in a time when we need all in our community working together to revive our states.

In fact, many state leaders have been quietly pursuing smart, integrative policies that promote stronger local communities, protect public safety and save money for the taxpayers. As Progressive States highlighted in our September 2008 report The Anti-Immigrant Movement That Failed, the majority of both legal and undocumented immigrants live in states that are promoting some version of integrative policies, even as the media continues to focus on the relative handful of state where punitive policies have been enacted.

Ultimately, proactive and integrative immigration policies are the best offense against any of the remaining anti-immigrant measures that are still being pushed at the state and local level. Immigration does bring change to many communities, but state leaders can address the fears voters may have by enacting positive policies that integrate new immigrants into communities, addressing public safety concerns, and highlighting the tax and fiscal contributions of those new immigrants.

The rest of the Dispatch will highlight key integration policies and why this approach is both smarter from both a policy and political perspective.

New Americans Policies — Integration, Not Isolation

Despite rhetoric to the contrary, studies show that new immigrants are eager to join the mainstream of American society. For example, a recent RAND study showed that Latino immigrants are assimilating into the economy at the same rate as earlier waves of European immigrants. Furthermore, a 2007 Census study found that in Los Angeles County, the proportion of native Spanish speakers fluent in English increased from 44.6% in 2000 to 51.4% in 2007 , while the share of naturalized citizens among the foreign-born grew from 38% to 43.3% over that time. Promoting New Americans and naturalization programs both challenges those who are reflexively anti-immigrant and demonstrates new Americans' fierce desire to be fully participatory in our society.

For legal immigrants, integrative policies can promote greater community participation and naturalization rates, while integrative policies aimed at undocumented immigrants can promote stronger economic contributions to local economies. As Richard Chacon, director of Massachusetts' Office of Refugees and Immigrants, stated, "[w]ere it not for immigrants and refugees, Massachusetts would have seen a population decline in the last seven years. Immigrants are becoming increasingly important to the health of the state economy."

A number of states have introduced legislation to better integrate immigrants, but the most progressive and comprehensive "New Americans Policy" exists in Illinois. The Illinois' policy brings together business, religious, and community leaders to expand English language programs, provide translation services and offer assistance through the naturalization process for new immigrants. Illinois' Office of New Americans has become the leader among the at least 15 states that have offices to tailor services to immigrants and help with naturalization.

Create "New Americans" Councils: With budgets tight, states can focus on basic planning to better streamline existing services for new immigrants. For example, in December of 2008, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley created a Council for New Americans via an Executive Order. It will have four working groups to make recommendations on policies including workforce development, citizenship and naturalization, government access, and financial services and planning. Other examples include:

  • New Jersey's Blue Ribbon Panel on Immigrant Policy to develop strategies to better integrate immigrants in that state,
  • Illinois' SB 1746, which enacted the Latino Family Commission in 2007 to make recommendations and work with agencies to improve and expand existing policies, services, programs, and opportunities for Latino families.
  • Washington state's Executive Order 08-01, creating a New Americans Policy Council to promote naturalization, English skills, and public-private partnerships for integration.

A number of states have approved additional funding to implement key integration policies, including a $6 million initiative in New York to fund nineteen state organizations to help immigrants become United States citizens. In Massachusetts an Executive Order provides $650,000 in FY 2009 for that state's Citizenship for New Americans Program, while Washington state approved $340,000 last year to promote community economic development and build the capacity of organizations across the state that provide naturalization assistance to legal permanent residents. Minnesota also proposed a Commission on New Americans (MN SF1081) which would address workforce, business, and public benefits issues for immigrants.

Expand Access to Adult English Classes: Long term integration policies almost always involve expanding access to adult English classes. Many business leaders also recognize the value of better language training programs and differ from anti-immigrant groups who want to deny funding for what they ironically deem essential. Although the "English Only" advocates push the idea that immigrants are uninterested in learning English, studies demonstrate that, to the contrary, immigrants are begging to learn English and it is only the scarcity of classes that prevents them from doing so. States have addressed this shortage of classes by looking into education and workforce development funds, both of which are being provided to states in the stimulus package.

  • Illinois' SB 1446 was enacted in 2007 and provides for an annual budget of $25 million, with no less than half of the funds appropriated for the Initiative being disbursed through community-based, not-for-profit organizations, immigrant social service organizations, faith-based organizations, and on-site job training programs.
  • Minnesota's HF 979 / SF 923 in 2007 increased funding for affordable and accessible adult English language instruction.

Expand Educational Opportunity: A key step states have taken to integrate the children of undocumented immigrants into our communities is to ensure that they have a path to higher education. These policies are frequently restricted to students who can prove that they have resided in the state for a set amount of time. In 2006, Nebraska joined nine other states that have passed laws, often called DREAM Acts, to provide the in-state tuition rate to undocumented immigrants who attend state colleges and universities. In 2007, the Connecticut legislature voted to do so as well, although unfortunately the Governor in that state vetoed the bill. Attempts to repeal Nebraska and Utah’s DREAM acts failed in both states in 2008.

Prevent Discrimination and Fraud Against Immigrants: Ensuring that immigrants are welcomed into local communities can take the form of proactive, big-picture policies, or can be accomplished through smaller steps such as protecting immigrants from discrimination and fraud. Integrative policy can also be aimed at decreasing the tension and suspicion between immigrants and the rest of the community.

  • To prevent local discrimination against immigrants, include immigration status as a protected category under fair housing laws. California AB 976 was enacted in October 2007 to block local ordinances that promote housing discrimination against immigrant community members. The bill also prohibits landlords from making inquiries about immigration status or requiring documentation.
  • Additionally, preventing new Americans from being defrauded by “notarios” who misrepresent their legal qualifications while advertising legal services is another meaningful step. California's AB 630, Kentucky's HB 166, and Indiana's SB 445 require immigration consultants to state upfront that they are not attorneys and cannot provide legal advice, or accept money for legal advice. Other similar bills that have passed include Georgia's HB 1055, Wisconsin's HB 468, and South Carolina's HB 4400.

More broadly, communities are increasingly challenging the verbal hate directed at many immigrant communities. The National Council of La Raza conducts a campaign called We Can Stop the Hate, urging media organizations to ratchet down the anti-immigrant rhetoric on talk shows, while Nashville just last week voted down a proposed "English Only" ballot initiative that was designed to inflame the public against new immigrants.


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Community Policing Creates Trust, Enhances Public Safety

While using local law enforcement officials to enforce federal immigration policies has been popular in some communities, these policies undermine the trust and relationship that local communities have with their neighborhood police. In the words of a report endorsed by the Major Cities Chiefs, a coalition representing police chiefs responsible for more than 50 million Americans:

“Immigration enforcement by local police would likely negatively effect and undermine the level of trust and cooperation between local police and immigrant communities. If the undocumented immigrant's primary concern is that they will be deported or subjected to an immigration status investigation, then they will not come forward and provide needed assistance and cooperation...Such a divide between the local police and immigrant groups would result in increased crime against immigrants and in the broader community, create a class of silent victims and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing future terroristic acts.”

Local Costs of Federal Immigration Enforcement: State and local leaders need strong community policing all the more because the federal government's focus on immigration enforcement has led them to neglect traditional crime enforcement. According to researchers at Syracuse University:

Immigration prosecutions have steeply risen over the last five years, while white-collar prosecutions have fallen by 18 percent, weapons prosecutions have dropped by 19 percent, organized crime prosecutions are down by 20 percent and public corruption prosecutions have dropped by 14 percent, according to the Syracuse group’s statistics. Drug prosecutions — the enforcement priority of the Reagan, first Bush and Clinton administrations — have declined by 20 percent since 2003.

This has led Arizona’s Attorney General to state, “I have seen a national abdication by the Justice Department." For this reason, state and local law enforcement needs to concentrate on measures that strengthen the community policing relationships that protect public safety, not waste scarce local resources on federal immigration law enforcement.


Protect victims and witnesses of crimes: One route to establishing community trust in local police is to engage local law enforcement in protecting immigrant witnesses and victims of crime, so that millions of immigrants feel safe coming forward to the police, who can then capture the real criminals. For example, in Maricopa County, Arizona, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio has run amok persecuting immigrant communities, many immigrants are being repeatedly robbed because the victims would rather not report the crimes for fear of being deported. Situations like these are against everyone’s best interests and the general public safety.

Even as some states and local communities have promoted local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws, other states and communities have instead encouraged victims and witnesses of crime, particularly those suffering from domestic violence, to come forward without fear of police inquiry into their immigration status. A model policy of this type is New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram's August 22, 2007 directive to law enforcement officers, prohibiting officers from inquiring about or investigating the immigration status of any victim, witness, or person requesting assistance from the police. The directive also prohibits racial profiling. In 2008, the Virginia legislature introduced two bills, SB 441 and HB 307, prohibiting law enforcement officers from inquiring into the immigration status of any person who reports being a victim or witness of a crime.

States like Hawaii and California have also passed passed legislation that protects victims of domestic violence. California's AJR 42 urges the Congress not to change the current policy allowing immigrant victims to pursue permanent resident status and Hawaii’s HB 2140 creates a pilot program working with nonprofits to assist victims of domestic violence.

Separation policies keep public servants focused on their real jobs: An even stronger form of community policing has been established in cities like Minneapolis, where police departments have a separation ordinance which distinguishes between the responsibilities of federal and local law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. It keeps local law enforcement free from considering immigration statuses in criminal investigations, unless it has direct bearing on the case. Additionally, Rhode Island's proposed H 5237 boosts community policing and prohibits local law enforcement from asking about immigration status during routine stops.

State leaders can minimize the damage that anti-immigrant witch hunts cause by pursuing policies and resolutions that limit questioning and recording of immigration status by city and state agencies, except where required by federal law. In 2007, Texas proposed HB 2381 to prohibit an officer, employee, or medical staff member of a general hospital to inquire into the immigration status or nationality of a person who needs or receives emergency services, unless the information is necessary to provide those services to the person. New York’s proposed SB 6738 would prohibit state officers or employees from disclosing a person’s immigration status.

Encourage Immigrant Victims of Trafficking to Seek Help: One policy which garners wide public support is the extension of public benefits to immigrant victims of trafficking, domestic violence, and other serious crimes. Florida's HB 7181, California's SB 1569, and North Carolina's SB 1078 all make public social service benefits available to victims of trafficking, domestic violence, and other serious crimes. Hawaii's HCR 204 proposed a resolution to have the state investigate existing obstacles, in statute, rule, or policy, that limit or deny benefits to victims of trafficking and assist such victims in attaining needed services.

Issuing licenses and IDs: While only a few states still issue drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants, progressive leaders need to emphasize that many top law enforcement officials are on record supporting such drivers license identification programs as a way to bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and better track state residents for law enforcement purposes. Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Utah, and Washington issue drivers licenses to undocumented and documented immigrants alike with no negative public safety repercussions. Proposed legislation such as New Jersey's A2607 and California's SB 60 both remove barriers to licenses.

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Taxation and Benefits - Demanding Feds Share Taxes Paid by Immigrants; Investing in Preventive Health Care

In these hard economic times, states are looking to the federal government for their share of the economic stimulus package, but part of the funds they should be demanding are federal taxes paid by immigrants in their states, especially as the federal government lags in funding services, from health care to public safety, to help states deal with the impact of new immigrants in communities.

Contrary to popular belief, immigrants pay a substantial amount of taxes, from federal income and Social Security taxes and to state income, sales, and property taxes. The IRS estimates that undocumented immigrants alone paid $50 billion in taxes from 1996 to 2003. A 2007 White House Council of Economic Advisers study reports that immigrants and their families contribute an average of $80,000 more than they use in benefits. But because many of those tax contributions are paid to the federal government, that fiscal contribution by immigrants is hidden from state and local governments.

Demand that the Federal Government Return Taxes Paid by Immigrants to States: Where anti-immigrant activists have worked to focus voter anger on immigrants, progressive leaders can refocus voter attention on the federal government by demanding that a share of the billions in federal taxes paid by undocumented workers be returned to states and localities with large immigrant populations. Doing so can help sustain federally-mandated programs such as emergency health care and education, while calling attention to the fact that immigrants do indeed pay their fair share of taxes, rebutting the notion that immigrants are only consumers of government benefits.

By passing resolutions that reinforce immigrant taxpayers’ statuses as contributors to the system, legislators can build a political coalition in their communities that includes immigrants to demand the surplus taxes. In 2008, a number of states introduced bills requesting federal reimbursement for state immigration-related expenses, including Arizona's HCM 2011, Minnesota's SF 886 and HB 771 , Oregon's HJM 24, Virginia's SJR 120, and South Carolina's HR 4347. New Mexico successfully passed HJM 3. Progressive States Network has also published model resultion language online here.

Commission Studies to Show Contributions of Immigrant Communities: This effort can be supplemented by commissioning studies that declare the taxes paid and economic contributions by immigrants:

  • In 2006, the Texas State Comptroller estimated that undocumented immigrants added over $17 billion to the state economy and paid over $400 million more in taxes than they received in benefits from the state.

  • Virginia's HB 1673, passed in April 2007, created the Virginia Commission on Immigration to study, report, and make recommendations to address the costs and benefits of immigration on the Commonwealth.

  • Maryland passed HB 1602, establishing a 3-year Commission to Study the Impact of Immigrants in Maryland, including a study of the demographic profile and the economic and fiscal impacts of immigration. The Commission’s recommendations are due by January 2011.

These official studies add to a strong chorus of reports on immigrants’ economic contributions to the states as taxpayers and entrepreneurs from the governments of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Texas, Florida, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Virginia, Washington DC, and Long Island, NY.

Measure Costs of Burdensome ID Rules for Receiving Benefits: In an economic crisis, it’s difficult to justify imposing additional burdens on overstretched and understaffed agencies, and yet conservatives continue to commit taxpayer dollars to ensure that immigrants, including legal immigrants, meet onerous ID requirements before being able to access their benefits. 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. Colorado spent twice as much on a program to deny public benefits to immigrants, with absolutely no savings. And as an article in USA Today emphasized, anti-immigrant proposals may be discouraging families from getting early treatment for sickness or injuries, increasing the cost when they show up at the hospital in an emergency. Additionally, the impact on legal residents and citizens can be severe, especially since ID requirements are usually so extreme that many legal citizens are turned away. When the federal government imposed new identification requirements for new Medicaid applicants, an estimated 1.2 to 2.3 million citizens lacked the documents required by the new rules and were in danger of losing coverage. States should commission their own studies to show the impact of benefit ID laws in hurting legal residents of their states.

Invest in Preventive Health Care for Immigrant Communities: A key tenet of public health management is that preventative care is the most budget-friendly and effective form of health care and that emergency care the least. However, only a minority of states provide full health care access to all residents, despite a public health study that shows that uninsured immigrant children have per capita cost expenditures that were 86% lower than that of uninsured American-born children, but that expenditures for emergency room visits were three times greater. Also, in most states, immigrant children, including those with documents, have been caught in the precarious position of lacking access to all but emergency care due to federal restrictions. A recent poll indicated that, by a margin of 79-15 percent, a majority of Americans favor expanding SCHIP to cover legal immigrant children, who until the recent changes, faced a five-year waiting period before they were eligible for health coverage under SCHIP. Pushing the issue of health care for immigrants also forces those who are conflicted on the topic of immigration to reconsider their stances and to see how anti-immigrant forces have prevented even legal immigrants from receiving benefits.

While Congress is to be commended on passing an SCHIP expansion that includes immigrant children who are authorized to be here and pregnant women, it will still be up to the states to decide how (and whether) including immigrants in SCHIP fits with current budget realities. Louisiana is one of many states looking to implement the expansions.

Even with the proposed change, the SCHIP program will still leave out undocumented children. In the long run, this can drive up health care costs for states and local governments due to delayed care and expensive emergency room visits. In Iowa, State Senators Jack Hatch and Joe Bolkcom introduced SF 48 to expand HAWK-I, their state’s insurance program for kids, to actually cover all children including documented immigrants who had previously been left out of federal SCHIP coverage. Iowa would be joining other states including New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Washington and the District of Columbia in providing health care to all children, regardless of immigration status.

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Ultimately, the best way for state leaders to handle the question of immigration is to join the majority of the states in promoting strategies that integrate immigrants and their children into their neighborhoods and strengthen their participation in our communities. By promoting integrative policies such as programs to increase naturalization and English language classes, current residents will feel reassured that immigrants do indeed want to participate in American civic life. Providing opportunities to learn English, rather than creating discriminatory barriers, is the most effective means of increasing English proficiency and allows immigrants to open doors for themselves. By promoting cross-cultural understanding and ongoing dialogue with local police departments, states can foster an atmosphere of trust and improved public safety for all. These strategies can even be more cost-effective than punitive strategies which divert necessary resources and reduced funding into counterproductive programs that show limited value. Americans ultimately recognize the social, cultural, and economic values that immigrants bring to our nation -- they just need to see state leaders taking positive action to assure new immigrants' integration into existing communities.

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New Americans Policies — Integration, Not Isolation

Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), New Workers, New Voters: Why Massachusetts Should Recruit, Retain, and Train Newcomers
Immigration Policy Center, From Newcomers to Americans: An Integration Policy for a Nation of Immigrants
New Americans Policy Council, For the Benefit of All: Strategic Recommendations to Enhance the State's Role in the Integration of Immigrants in Illinois Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugee Rights, The New Americans Initiative
NCSL, State and Local Immigrant Offices
American Immigration Law Foundation, ESL Education Helps Immigrants Integrate, Interest remains high despite a national shortage of ESL programs
Pew Hispanic Center, English Usage Among Hispanics in the United States
FIRM, In-State Tuition Campaigns

Community Policing Creates Trust, Enhances Public Safety

National Council of La Raza, State and Local Police Enforcement of Immigration Law, A Toolkit for Advocates
National Immigration Forum, State and Local Police Enforcement of Immigration Laws
Border Action Network, Human and Civil Rights Violations Uncovered
Major Cities Chiefs statement on community policing
Advocates for Human Rights - The Facts about Local Law Enforcement and Separations Policies
National Immigration Project - Noncitizen Survivors of Domestic Violence, including Local Police Enforcement of Immigration Laws and Its Effects on Victims of Domestic Violence
National Immigration Law Center, Why Denying Driver's Licenses to Undocumented Immigrants Harms Public Safety and Makes Our Communities Less Secure; Immigrants & Driver's Licenses: Resources for Advocates, Driver's Licenses for All Immigrants: Quotes from Law Enforcement
City of New Haven, New Haven's Elm City Resident Cards Fact Sheet

Taxation and Benefits - Demanding Feds Share Taxes Paid by Immigrants; Investing in Preventive Health Care

National Council of La Raza, State and Local Immigration Initiatives
Government Accountability Office (GAO), Medicaid: States Reported that Citizenship Documentation Requirement Resulted in Enrollment Declines for Eligible Citizens and Posed Administrative Burdens (June 2007)
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, New Medicaid Citizenship Documentation Requirement is Taking a Toll: States Report Enrollment is Down and Administrative Costs Are Up
Urban Institute
Iowa editorial on covering ALL kids
First Focus SCHIP Poll