As immigration bills languish in Congress, state legislatures continue to pave the way in welcoming immigrants and refugees in 2022.
With the majority of the 46 state legislatures that convened this year having adjourned, many states—once again—used the legislative process to pass bills that make their communities more inclusive for all state residents. These initiatives include: creating and expanding language access services, removing barriers to occupational licensure and employment, and making it easier to access everyday services like transportation, housing, and healthcare.
Our data highlights the critical role immigrants and refugees already play in state and local economies, but new Americans often face barriers that limit their full participation in the workforce. This year, a number of states passed legislation that will help them remain competitive and meet workforce demand amid a historically tight labor market.
- Illinois committed to studying and proposing recommendations to increase access to professional licenses for internationally trained healthcare professionals.
- Hawaii and Virginia took steps to reduce barriers to professional licensing for internationally trained nurses and teachers, respectively, as one step toward addressing critical shortages.
- Colorado’s Office of New Americans (ONA) was directed to convene an 18-month global talent task force and provide tools for English language learners to enter work-based training programs.
Language barriers and difficulties accessing transportation can pose significant obstacles to full inclusion in a local community, especially when trying to secure housing and employment, access essential daily public services, enroll a child in school, and much more. Many states took action to address these challenges.
- New York now requires implementation of language translation technology within all state agencies to ensure language accessibility for all who use their services.
- Every New Mexico state agency must create and implement plans for translation and interpretation services for individuals with limited English proficiency.
- Massachusetts and Rhode Island joined more than 15 states in providing driver’s licenses to all residents, regardless of immigration status, so that everyone who calls the state home can safely drive to work, school, doctor’s appointments, and more.
- Utah made it easier for resettled Afghans to get a driver’s license.
Many states have also invested in and expanded wrap-around services for all residents, regardless of status, to help everyone live a safe and healthy life.
- Colorado and Maryland are among some of the states that expanded healthcare coverage to certain undocumented residents in the state.
- Colorado expanded unemployment benefits to undocumented workers who lost their job during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Washington expanded access to the state’s Working Families Tax Credit for all working residents with a valid tax identification number, regardless of immigration status.
Unfortunately, not every state recognizes the value of welcoming newcomers. Though many states have adopted policies intended to foster trust and cooperation between local law enforcement and immigrant communities—which are proven to make communities safer—other states have retreated in the opposite direction.
- As part of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ larger anti-immigrant agenda, he signed the controversial anti-sanctuary city SB 1808. This law expands on the unconstitutional SB 168 and forces law enforcement agencies that operate detention centers to sign 287(g) agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
- In a similar approach, the Governor of Kansas signed HB 2717, prohibiting cities from preventing the use of local enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws.
These are just some examples of how states are continuing to drive immigration policy change in 2022, for better, but also for worse. As some states continue to break barriers and create opportunities for all through legislation, these states model what is possible in reimagining an immigration system that serves everyone and ensures all can thrive.
Written by Micaela McConnell and Marissa Solomon-McRoy