August 21, 2019

Florida Can Strengthen its Economy and Communities With Four Inclusive Policies for Immigrants

This post was last updated on December 8, 2021. As new policies are announced, FPI will update this page.

As Florida’s response to COVID-19 takes front and center, concern grows for low-income families who struggle to take precautions against the spread of the virus. Although Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to address, at least in part,  the public health crisis and economic fallout from COVID-19, many barriers continue to keep struggling families from accessing the assistance they need during the pandemic. As Florida initiates policies implementing the Act and addressing other barriers to the safety net, FPI will update this form. When available, hyperlinks are provided to agency documents or statements that provide greater detail  about the new policy.

On March 22, 2020, FPI and 44 other organizations sent a letter to Governor DeSantis, leadership in the Legislature and agency heads to urge action on 47 specific policy changes to reduce unnecessary barriers for Florida’s safety net programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. See the letter here.

ORLANDO, FL - State and local policymakers can take four key steps to better integrate 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 (CBPP). 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.

“Immigrants have long been integral to the growth of Florida's communities, economy and culture. Half of all immigrants who are undocumented have lived in Florida for more than 10 years, making important contributions as workers and taxpayers. Until the federal government can devise inclusive policies for immigrants that also forge a pathway to legal citizenship for those who remain undocumented, it is crucial that states like Florida take a more proactive approach,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of Florida Policy Institute (FPI).

“At a time when federal immigration policies are causing widespread harm, it is both sound policy and beneficial to states to pursue supportive polices 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 CBPP explained.

The report highlights four important ways Florida can connect people who are undocumented to opportunity:

1.  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, including Florida. Twelve of these states plus DC offer state financial aid to students who are undocumented. Florida is not one of them.

2.  Driver’s licenses for immigrants who are undocumented can help them 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, but Florida is not one of them.

3.  Stronger labor law enforcement will ensure that all workers — regardless of immigration status — are paid what they earn and it will help level the playing field for businesses and workers. Despite the economic costs of lost wages and tax revenues, many states have few designated investigators to enforce the minimum wage, and Florida has designated none.

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 percent of U.S. households.

FPI is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

CBPP is a nonpartisan research and policy institute that pursues federal and state policies designed both to reduce poverty and inequality and to restore fiscal responsibility in equitable and effective ways.

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