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.