As Congress begins to debate how to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws on the federal level, state governors who previously staked out anti-immigrant positions are quieter. And in a change from previous years, few measures that mimic provisions of Arizona’s SB-1070 have been proposed in state legislatures. That’s not to say there isn’t still some anti-immigrant legislation bubbling up in states. In Mississippi, for example, a bill to strengthen enforcement of the mandatory E-Verify was introduced but died in the House, however a measure to prevent undocumented immigrants from purchasing public lands is still pending in the Senate after the House passed it.
Yet, by and large, states are moving in a more positive direction as lawmakers from both parties support measures to help undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.:
- In-State Tuition: Lawmakers in some states are supporting measures allowing undocumented immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition. The Colorado Senate this week approved a bill that “would allow undocumented immigrant students who have attended a Colorado high school and have attended at least three years of schooling in Colorado to receive in-state college tuition rates regardless of their legal status.” For the first time, three Republican state senators voted in favor of the Colorado bill, which now heads to the House. Indiana passed a bill in 2011 to ban undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition, but the Indiana Senate this week took a step toward rolling it back. Senators approved a bill that would roll back the ban for undocumented students who were already enrolled at Indiana public colleges when the law went into effect. A Minnesota state senator is hopeful about a tuition equity bill he introduced this week that would make undocumented students eligible for some financial aid. And in Pennsylvania, a Republican senator is pushing for the state to allow qualified undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition. State Sen. Lloyd Smucker explained that it was the right thing to do for undocumented students after the state has already invested in their high school education.
- Driver’s Licenses: More than a dozen states, including Michigan and Illinois, have already said officials will issue driver’s licenses to young undocumented immigrants who receive work authorization through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In North Carolina, though, the Division of Motor Vehicles will issue licenses to immigrants who receive deferred action through DACA, but the licenses will include a pink header and the words “NO LAWFULSTATUS” and “LIMITED TERM” written on the front. Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill in response to the policy that would give licenses that look like those issued to everyone else to qualifying undocumented immigrants. In New Mexico, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez supports a policy to provide temporary licenses for young undocumented immigrants who benefit from DACA but stop granting licenses to undocumented immigrants. But immigrant advocates in the state say the proposal would discriminate against young immigrants with temporary legal status. Beyond only providing licenses to immigrants who receive deferred action through DACA, lawmakers in Maryland are pushing a bill to end the state’s ban on providing licenses to undocumented immigrants. “If you live in Maryland you should be able to obtain a driver’s license,” said State Senator Vincent Ramirez (D).
In addition to new state policies on driver’s licenses and in-state tuition, state legislators have introduced resolutions to show support for comprehensive immigration reform. After President Obama’s State of the Union, Texas Democrats introduced HR 44, which asks Congress to “swiftly enact and fund comprehensive immigration reform that creates a road map to citizenship.” And in Florida, a Republican state senator introduced a similar resolution. This is in addition to resolutions in support of comprehensive immigration reform that local officials have passed in cities like Tucson, Arizona, and El Paso, Texas.
State efforts to improve immigration policy can be good complement to national efforts to craft a comprehensive immigration reform plan. There is still much work to be done to fix our broken system, but the state measures that allow immigrants to drive and continue their education are a good starting point in the ongoing debate.