Mapping State Policies to Support Immigrant Families – Next100
Report   Immigration

Mapping State Policies to Support Immigrant Families

This analysis explains fifteen state-level policies (“policy indicators”) that impact immigrant families, tracks whether they have been adopted by each state in the United States, and notes variations within the policies. The analysis culminates in an interactive map scoring every state on how supportive their policy landscape is of immigrant families regardless of immigration status.

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This report is a part of the Embracing Our Strength project, a two-part, immigrant-designed and immigrant-led project meant to address the needs of undocumented and mixed-status immigrant families through state policy recommendations. Learn more about the project here.


Embrace Our Strength is a two-part, immigrant-designed and immigrant-led project meant to address the needs of undocumented and mixed-status immigrant families through state policy. In one of the project’s two reports, Next100 and Haitian Bridge Alliance, in partnership with ImmSchools, went to parents currently and directly impacted by their immigration status to better understand the support they and their families need within their states across four issue areas: education, health care, livelihood, and safety. The systemic exclusion of immigrants, particularly those who are undocumented, mean their voices are critical to drive the urgency for change and broadly envision what a supportive policy landscape should look like. The conversations with parents resulted in “Our Voices, Our Policy,” a report uplifting the strengths of immigrant families, presenting the challenges they face, and sharing policy recommendations for addressing those challenges.

Concurrently, Next100 conducted an extensive analysis of the policy landscape across the nation to explore how each state is doing to address the needs of their undocumented and mixed-status immigrant families. This evaluation, which is presented below, focuses on the same four issue areas as its partner report in Embrace Our Strength, identifying opportunities for systemic action.

State policymakers have the power to include immigrants regardless of immigration status in state-provided programs and services. States also have the power to review their policies to address those that disproportionately harm immigrant communities. “Mapping State Policies to Support Immigrant Families” provides an evaluative rubric and an interactive map scoring every state on how inclusive their policy landscape is of immigrant families, regardless of immigration status. The analysis shared below is envisioned as a tool for state advocates, policymakers, and grassroots organizations to keep pushing for the environments we know all our neighbors deserve, regardless of immigration status. Our present and our future is interconnected. We need everyone to have access to the education, health care, livelihood, and safety to ensure we reach our full potential. We know this positive path forward for U.S. states is possible because every policy included and tracked in our analysis has been accomplished by a state to some extent.

Key to the Scorecard

Number of identified policies in place Rubric Score
12-15 of identified policies in place State policies are supportive of immigrant families.
8-11 of identified policies in place State policies are moderately supportive of immigrant families.
4-7 of identified policies in place State policies are slightly supportive of immigrant families.
0-3 of identified policies in place State policies are not supportive of immigrant families.
See how the states performed here.

If you are having trouble viewing this map, click here. If you would like the specific policy information for your state, please reach out to [email protected]

Overview

Fifteen policy indicators were identified and analyzed based on their power to affect undocumented and mixed-status immigrant families in positive ways, as evidenced by the research of and conversations with experts in the immigration field, particularly those with significant expertise at the state level and on the topic of supporting and protecting mixed-status immigrant families and children of immigrant backgrounds. State responses to the COVID-19 pandemic were also considered, given the severe impact of the health and economic crisis on immigrant families. Generally, the policies tracked in this analysis affirmatively allow immigrants, regardless of immigration status, to access essential state services, programs, and benefits.

The indicators were tracked across the fifty states and Washington, D.C. to draw a useful portrait of the state-by-state policy landscape for undocumented and mixed-status immigrant families. For some of the policy indicators tracked, other organizations and researchers have created state-by-state analyses. However, no other analysis has sought to so thoroughly capture the landscape of each state as it affects undocumented and mixed-status immigrant families across multiple issue areas. The fifteen indicators span access for state residents regardless of immigration status across four areas: education, health care, livelihood, and security.

After the policy indicators were determined, each state’s laws were reviewed to identify where states had taken action to implement laws and/or state-run programs that were inclusive of their immigrant population regardless of immigration status. When states were found to have taken action to include immigrants, the policy was checked against other sources tracking state progress on policies affecting immigrants. This triangulation process varied by category, but most heavily relied on the extensive research conducted by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the Urban Institute (updated by the National Center for Children in Poverty), and uLead, as well as direct policy analysis based on text derived from the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) searchable database on immigration bills and LexisNexis state codes. States received a point for each policy that supported their immigrant population and built towards an inclusive landscape. States were then rated based on how well they have done to create an environment where immigrant families can thrive.

The map that accompanies this report is a reflection of how state policymakers are either intentionally including or actively excluding their undocumented and mixed-status immigrant population. In the next section, the fifteen policy indicators are explained. Where applicable, examples of especially innovative and equity-driven policy models are spotlighted, as well as examples where it may be valuable for states to revisit and reconsider implementation of existing policy. Models considered innovative were those where state legislation or state-run programs are attempting to implement immigrant-inclusive policy in ways that had not yet been tried by other states. Equity-driven policies were those that took measures to broaden their reach towards universal implementation models, creating benefits for all regardless of immigration status. Policies that need strengthening were those where large segments of the undocumented population may be barred from benefits because of technicalities, and where other state models have shown more inclusive policy is possible.

After the review of the fifteen policy indicators, the report discusses limitations in the analysis, and presents our scorecard on state policy supporting mixed-status and undocumented families.

The Policy Indicators

Valuing Education
Expanding Access to Health Care
Supporting Livelihood
Safety

 

Valuing Education

In terms of education, three policies were identified and analyzed: tuition equity/in-state tuition, in-state financial aid, and access to professional licensure and certification.
Tuition Equity/In-State Tuition: 21 states and Washington, D.C. have affirmatively implemented inclusive policies.
What it is Tuition equity laws ensure that any student regardless of immigration status is able to pay in-state tuition rates for attending public institutions of higher education within their state of residence. Eligibility restrictions differ by state, largely based on the length of time an individual has resided or attended school in the state.
Why it’s important Without tuition equity laws, undocumented students are faced with paying international or out-of-state tuition rates for pursuing higher education in their state. On average, these rates are over $8,000 more expensive. This is on top of a lack of access to federal financial aid and barriers to employment that undocumented students face, which makes paying the higher rates all the more challenging. This policy is especially critical now as the incoming class of undocumented students have not had access to DACA, which would grant them a social security number and a work permit, making it easier to pay for college. Even though DACA has been reinstated, the process for new applicants to receive the temporary benefit can take several months at the least, and undocumented youth who have spent the majority of their lives in the United States are ineligible if they did not enter the country before June 2007. For students to pursue higher education, they must believe it is attainable, which means addressing the exorbitant cost of pursuing higher education as an undocumented student.
How it varies As noted above, many of these policies place restrictions on eligibility related to the amount of time a student has resided or attended school in the state. These requirements inevitably mean that certain immigrants will be left out. Eleven states with tuition equity laws specify that students must have completed three years of high school within the state. Older newcomer immigrant students—who already face multiple additional barriers—may be adversely impacted by this exclusion.

Most innovative: California has passed several bills related to tuition equity, each seeking to broaden who is included in increased access to higher education. Their state law allows adult school or community college credit to count towards the three-year eligibility requirements that make undocumented youth eligible for tuition equity.

Most equity-driven: New Mexico has the most minimal time restrictions, opening up tuition equity to all students who complete at least a year of high school in the state.

Needs strengthening: Of states that offer tuition equity, Oregon has the strictest time requirements, although they are linked to time in the United States, not time in Oregon: the state requires students to have completed at least five years of K–12 education within the United States.

In-State Financial Aid: 13 states and Washington, D.C. have affirmatively implemented inclusive policies and allocated resources.
What it is Some states have also extended in-state financial aid to their students, meaning students have access to state funds to help pay for their higher education. In the states that offer in-state financial aid and tuition equity, eligibility restrictions generally align with those for tuition equity.
Why it’s important While in-state tuition is an important step toward making a college education attainable, more support is needed to make it truly accessible. Undocumented students are not eligible for federal financial aid, including student grants and loans. Securing private loans is more challenging for them, coming with higher interest rates and a need to find co-signers outside their immediate family because of limited access for building credit. In-state financial aid laws and appropriations ensure that undocumented students have somewhere to turn to when they need support with paying for college.
How it varies There are differences between states in how accessible and transparent they make the application process, as well as whether aid runs through the state or through higher education institutions. States also differ in the amount of funding available. The majority of states require students to apply online in a streamlined process and offer clear guidance on how and when to apply for support.

Most innovative: Beyond appropriating funds for in-state financial aid, Washington State has passed laws allowing students to apply to need-based state grants and, beginning in July 2021, students will also be able to apply for low-interest student loans, to further expand resources to help pay for college.

Most equity-driven: If students do not know of the opportunities available, they may miss out. Many are navigating the college process alone, as they may be first-time college-goers in this country. California is ensuring that students are aware of the resources and processes in place to get them to and through college by allocating funds and requiring that every Califonia Community College and California State University designate an undocumented student liaison.

Needs strengthening: Texas and New Mexico were the first two states to offer in-state financial aid to their undocumented student population. However, they are now the only two states offering statewide financial aid without an online application system for these students. New Mexico lacks a centralized system, meaning that the application process varies by institution and students cannot clearly gauge the process for accessing aid.

Access to Professional Licenses and Certifications: 8 states have affirmatively implemented inclusive policies.
What it is  For many professions—such as being an electrician, teaching, or practicing medicine—states require individuals to have some sort of license or certification to practice the profession. The majority of licenses and certifications are approved and issued at the state level, meaning that states have significant agency in deciding the eligibility requirements for professional licensing. States can ensure that licensing and certification requirements do not require citizenship or otherwise discriminate on the basis of immigration status.
Why it’s important Being licensed or certified in a profession does not change whether or not an individual can receive a federal work permit: businesses and organizations are still legally prohibited from hiring undocumented professionals by federal law. However, having a professional license or certification does allow people to build towards a more financially secure future by increasing the formal recognition of their skills. Immigrants can start small businesses, regardless of immigration status, and by having access to professional licenses and certification, they can invest in developing and providing their skills to their communities. Further, immigration status can change and pathways to citizenship can open up for currently undocumented individuals—expanding access to professional licenses and certifications allows people to prepare for that moment.
How it varies While only eight states have expanded access to certification and licensure for people regardless of immigration status, there is increasing momentum behind the issue: three of those states have adopted legislation within the last two years and additional states introduced legislation in the last year.

Most equity-driven: In California, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, and New Mexico, people can get professional licensure and certification in any profession with an individual taxpayer identification number, provided applicants meet all other requirements.

Needs strengthening: Some states have expanded access to just a limited set of occupations, including South Dakota for dentistry, Utah for occupational therapists, and Wyoming for law practitioners. Beyond those professions, people are still limited from seeking certification by citizenship and social security number requirements.

 

Expanding Access to Health Care

In terms of health care, four policies were identified and analyzed: health insurance for children, health insurance for pregnant women, health insurance for adults, and mental health coverage.
Health Insurance for Children: 6 states and Washington, D.C. have affirmatively implemented inclusive policies.
What it is Six states and Washington, D.C. have passed legislation expanding state health insurance programs to cover health care for uninsured children (18 and under) to ensure that every child regardless of immigration status has access to state-subsidized health coverage. These policies vary in terms of the income level they cover, with some providing coverage to only very low-income individuals, and others providing subsidized coverage, or at least access, to those with higher income levels. Covered health care services vary slightly by state, generally including preventative care like check-ups and vaccinations, care for managing asthma, mental health care, dental care, eye care, urgent care, and prescriptions.
Why it’s important When children lack health coverage, they are more likely to be in poor health because parents delay or forgo seeking necessary health care services. This impacts their health and life outcomes, as children need to be healthy to learn in school and thrive beyond school. Access to appropriate health services and improved health provides children an opportunity at improved health, academic, and life outcomes.
How it varies Most innovative: In its rollout of Healthy Kids, which expands eligibility for medical assistance to all children residing in the state with a family income under 305 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), Oregon included provisions for a statewide targeted outreach campaign, advised by an expert working group to ensure hard-to-reach families were aware of their potential eligibility. Targeted groups included communities of color; communities faced with language barriers; children in rural areas; and children and families experiencing additional barriers to access like cognitive, mental health or sensory disorders, physical disabilities or chemical dependency, and homelessness.

Most equity-driven: Through their Children’s Medical Security Plan, Massachusetts has made serious progress to ensure that an accessible health care option is available to children in all families who are ineligible for Medicaid, regardless of income level. Their program subsidizes health coverage for children in families under 200 percent FPL free of charge. Beyond that, they provide a reduced premium for children in families between 201 and 400 percent of the FPL, and they give any family making over 400 percent of the FPL the option of enrolling their children by paying the full cost of provision, which is still more affordable than many private insurance plans.

Needs strengthening: California and Washington, D.C. have the strictest income requirements among states that provide access to undocumented children, thereby interrupting continuous health coverage for children. Income level cutoffs that are too low pose challenges for mixed-status and undocumented immigrant families who are unable to afford private health insurance and have no other options for accessible health care coverage. California offers coverage free of cost to children in families earning under 138 percent of the FPL, or $3,013 a month for a family of four, and offers a reduced premium for families up to 266 percent of the FPL through Medi-Cal. While Washington, D.C. covers children and youth until the age of 21 through the Immigrant Children’s Program, it only covers them up to 200 percent of the FPL.

Health Insurance for Pregnant Women: 16 states and Washington, D.C. have affirmatively implemented inclusive policies.
What it is Labor and delivery services are considered emergency medical conditions by Medicaid, so pregnant women who meet Medicaid income eligibility requirements should be covered by emergency Medicaid in every state, regardless of immigration status. But states can take additional actions to provide access to health care to pregnant women. Broadly, states are also able to provide more comprehensive health services to pregnant women regardless of immigration status using state funding, and a number have chosen to do so. In addition, through the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)’s “unborn child” option, states can use federal funding to expand access to prenatal care for all low-income pregnant women regardless of their immigration status. States are technically covering the “unborn child”, who has no immigration status but will presumably be born in the United States.
Why it’s important Increased access to prenatal medical care positively influences pregnancy outcomes and improves infants’ health and maternal health. Healthier pregnancies result in healthier child development, which has further downstream effects, including an impact on future costs to schools. There are also economic benefits: without this coverage, hospitals face increased uncompensated care costs for delivering and caring for infants through potentially higher risk births.
How it varies The specific length of prenatal care and services included in coverage vary greatly by state; some states also provide postpartum care. As with subsidized health coverage for children, income levels determining eligibility also vary.

Most innovative: In additional to prenatal care, Oregon’s Reproductive Health Equity Act ensures that all women in the state, regardless of immigration status, can access free reproductive health services while prohibiting discrimination in reproductive health care. This law also fills a critical gap in postpartum care for undocumented pregnant women, an estimated 48,000 of whom previously lacked access in Oregon alone.

Most equity-driven: Washington State provides the most comprehensive and accessible health care coverage to pregnant women regardless of immigration status. Women who reside in the state and have a combined family income up to 300 percent of the FPL can enroll in Apple Care, which includes prenatal and postpartum care, dental services, mental health care, and interpreter services, amongst others. Furthermore, like Oregon, Washington provides reproductive health coverage to ensure women can choose if, when, and how to have children.

Needs strengthening: While states enrolled in the CHIP “unborn child” option are providing critical prenatal care, the vulnerabilities faced by mothers after giving birth if postpartum care is not provided can be life-threatening. More must be done by Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Washington, D.C. to ensure all women have access to postpartum care. Texas and Wisconsin have taken a small step forward by ensuring at least two postpartum visits, but many other states have shown it is possible to ensure pregnant women have access to postpartum care in the sixty days after giving birth, as is provided for other Medicaid recipients.

Health Insurance for Adults: Washington, D.C. has affirmatively implemented inclusive policies, and Colorado will do so soon. Two other states have increased access for certain adults.
What it is  Health insurance coverage allows people to access health care by protecting them against high, often unexpected, medical expenses. Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for non-emergency Medicaid and Medicare, and often lack access to other forms of health coverage as well. This means states must adopt policies to create or expand programs for state-subsidized health insurance regardless of immigration status to make health insurance accessible to undocumented immigrants.
Why it’s important An estimated 45 percent of undocumented immigrants are uninsured, which means they may not be able to or may choose not to access needed care. When adults delay or forgo necessary medical attention or routine check-ups, they become vulnerable to worse health outcomes. What could have been prevented by routine medical care then becomes expensive to address. The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the importance of health coverage, as those with underlying and untreated health conditions have been more gravely affected by the virus. The loss of a parent is devastating to a child, and if that can be prevented by ensuring access to health care, such access must be guaranteed.
How it varies Despite the critical importance of health care, Washington, D.C. is the only jurisdiction that offers subsidized health coverage to undocumented adults older than 26 and younger than 65, though Colorado will implement expanded access in 2023. Only two states currently cover anyone over 18 who is not pregnant. California has extended access to health coverage for low-income undocumented young people up to age 26. Illinois has extended access to health coverage for low-income undocumented individuals over the age of 65.

Equity-driven: Washington, D.C. allows anyone with a combined family income under 200 percent of the FPL who lacks access to health coverage to enroll in DC Healthcare Alliance, which covers limited health services. Colorado offers a ray of hope: recently passed legislation means that in 2023, the state will begin to offer state-subsidized health coverage options to uninsured people who earn up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, regardless of immigration status.

Mental Health Coverage: California includes mental health provisions in health insurance coverage.
What it is Not all health insurance covers mental health services. Only California has included coverage of these services in the insurance they’ve made available to people regardless of immigration status.
Why it’s important Individuals in mixed-status and undocumented immigrant households are vulnerable to mental health issues given the many stressors on mental wellbeing that consistently affect them, like trauma, racism and discrimination, and limited access to resources for meeting basic needs. Unaffordable and limited culturally and linguistically responsible care within the mental health field further exacerbate this challenge. Addressing these concerns starts with ensuring that mental health services are included in health insurance coverage.

 

Supporting Livelihood

In terms of livelihood, five policies were identified and analyzed, including two specific to state response to the COVID-19 pandemic: access to driver licenses, state entities that support immigrants, E-Verify participation, emergency relief for immigrants excluded from the federal COVID-19 response, and nutritional assistance for children through Pandemic-EBT.

Access to Driver Licenses and State Identification: 16 states and Washington, D.C. have affirmatively implemented inclusive policies.
What it is The federal REAL ID Act enables states to issue licenses that cannot be used for certain federal purposes but can be accepted to establish identity at the state and local level. These licenses can be made available to people regardless of immigration status and must clearly state they are not for federal purposes.
Why it’s important Having access to a form of state identification protects individuals from discrimination, decreases family separations due to deportations, and supports access to other essential services. Access to a driver’s license also increases economic opportunity and creates safer roads for all. Evidence suggests that lack of access to driver’s licenses increases parental stress; on the flip side, parental access to driver’s licenses improves health outcomes for children.
How it varies State variation in access to state identification for undocumented individuals runs the gamut, from what type of identification is avaliable, how similar it is to a typical driver’s license, how much it costs, the length of issuance, eligibility requirements, data privacy, and the state’s willingess to protect applicants’ information from ICE.

Most innovative: Recent research exposes that the Department of Homeland Security has used applicant information from state departments of motor vehicles to target and detain undocumented immigrants. State law in California, Hawaii, New Jersey, and New York, as well as Washington, D.C. specifically protects individuals’ personal information from being shared by departments of motor vehicles with other government agencies or sold to outside entities.

Most equity-driven: Many states, including those mentioned above as well as Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington State, offer uniform driver licenses that can be used for state identification purposes and do not discriminate on issuance based on immigration status.

Needs strengthening: Some states have created driver licenses for undocumented immigrants that are more restrictive than required by federal law. Utah is particularly restrictive, offering driving “privilege cards” that are only valid for a year, meaning they are four times as expensive as a Utah original driver license for the same period of time. Furthermore, they are marked “FOR DRIVING PRIVILEGES ONLY—NOT VALID FOR IDENTIFICATION”, and require fingerprinting against criminal databases and ICE notifications if a criminal history is found.

State Entities That Support Immigrants: 13 states and Washington, D.C. have allocated resources to improve immigrant integration, support improved services for immigrants, and include immigrants in various policies or programs regardless of immigration status.
What it is State governments can create offices, task forces, or other entities meant to examine and manage the statewide resources available to immigrants. These entities can be established through legislation or governors’ executive orders (varies by state). While many states have refugee services programs that coordinate federal funding, states only received a point towards supporting immigrants in our evaluation if they have created a state entity tasked with services extending beyond those specifically for refugees and meant to impact all immigrants within the state.
Why it’s important When state governments designate entities to intentionally consider how immigrants access state services and are supported within the state, they signal that they are welcoming of immigrants and the experiences of immigrants matter to them. It is only by establishing entities tasked with understanding and coordinating immigrant experiences, regardless of immigration status, that states can begin addressing the systemic barriers that undocumented and mixed-status immigrant families face.
How it varies Offices and task forces are designated under different departments, including state departments of labor/economic development, departments of human services, attorney general’s offices, and interagency collaborations. The offices, task forces, and/or commissioners have varying budgets and perform a variety of functions, from serving as liaisons between USCIS and immigrants seeking support in applying to adjust their immigration status, to supporting immigrant communities in navigating state services through designated centers and community navigators, supporting dissemination of knowledge on immigrant rights, coordinating funding initiatives and immigrant integration efforts in partnership with nonprofit organizations serving immigrants, advising governors on systemic barriers impacting immigrants in the state, and monitoring the implementation of laws affecting immigrants.

Most innovative: California’s statewide director of immigrant integration is the only entity actually tasked with the legal responsibility of monitoring the implementation of laws and regulations serving immigrants. This is a critical step towards making the promise of these policies real, by ensuring that local entities do not violate laws meant to support immigrants regardless of immigration status, as has occurred in Orange County and other localities throughout California.

Most equity-driven: Entities focused on immigrant integration in California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia are all expected to advise the state in a formal and ongoing way on issues affecting immigrants, which helps to create an issue-focused policy awareness throughout these state governments that allows for the crafting of more inclusive laws, policy, and policy implementation moving forward.

Needs strengthening: It is critical for states to offer services that support immigrants with navigating complicated immigration applications when they seek to adjust their immigration status, especially given the prohibitive cost of the lengthy naturalization process and the prevalence of fraudulent notaries who take advantage of immigrants. However, Delaware’s decision to limit the tasks of state-designated entities to serving only as liaisons between USCIS and immigrant communities ignores that many undocumented immigrants have no pathway to citizenship and disregards the very real power state governments have in improving the lives of immigrants.

Does Not Mandate E-Verify Participation: 28 states and Washington, D.C. do not mandate employer participation in the program.
What it is  E-Verify is a voluntary program administered in partnership between the DHS and the Social Security Administration to verify the work authorization of new hires. This program is in addition to the I-9 employment eligibility verification process. States can choose whether to mandate that employers participate in E-Verify.
Why not participating matters Concerns have been raised by lawmakers about the consequences of states mandating employer participation, including that the program negatively impacts the economy by burdening businesses with its cost; that it is unreliable and ineffective at properly verifying employment eligibility; and that it does not actually address the fact that some undocumented workers have no pathway to gainful legal employment, while ostracizing and increasing fear in immigrant communities.
How it varies Participation in the E-Verify program is voluntary for employers, but states have the power to mandate participation for all employers, all public employers, or most public employers and subcontractors. In this case, states could earn a point towards supporting immigrants in our evaluation through passive action: by not requiring any employers within the state to use E-Verify.

California and Illinois are the only two states that actively prohibit E-Verify mandates and limit employer use of the program. In both states, employers cannot use E-Verify to check the immigration status of current employees or job applicants.

COVID-19—Extend Emergency Relief to All: 8 states and Washington, D.C. have included immigrants, regardless of immigration status, in their allocations of COVID-19 relief resources.
What it is States can allocate state funds to ensure families, regardless of immigration status, have access to emergency economic support and other forms of relief to address the unprecedented challenges raised by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why it’s important In the CARES Act, the federal government left out all mixed-status immigrant families from federal relief. While that was rectified for some mixed-status immigrant families in the latest relief package, there is still no relief for an estimated four million individuals, including two million U.S. citizen children with undocumented parents. Exacerbating this challenge, people without a social security number and employment authorization are not eligible for unemployment insurance relief. This is despite the fact that many undocumented adults pay taxes just like their counterparts with social security numbers and have been disproportionately contributing day in and out as frontline and essential workers as our country trudges on to the current extent possible. On average, these individuals have been in the country for over a decade, fully embedding themselves in contributing to this country. Federal exclusion leaves states, communities, and families reeling with the impacts of hunger, evictions and houselessness, and deepened poverty. States can take actions to prevent economic devastation through expanding access to their own pandemic relief efforts, both because it is the right thing to do and because it will be necessary for their economic recovery.
How it varies As states have taken action to address gaps in federal relief packages, they have sought to include individuals regardless of immigration status in short-term and one-time economic assistance payments, rental and utility assistance, and state tax credit programs in a variety of ways: executive orders, budget allocations, new or expanded legislation, and public–private partnerships.

Most innovative: All residents of Washington State, regardless of immigration status, are able to turn to the Disaster Cash Assistance Program (DCAP), an initiative that pre-exists the COVID-19 pandemic and which provides a month of emergency funds for families demonstrating financial need in meeting basic requirements. Households are able to apply once within a twelve-month period, though in 2020, Washington Governor Jay Inslee issued a waiver allowing households to qualify for DCAP twice, once if affected by COVID-19 and once if affected by the wildfires. Oregon rolled out the Worker Relief Fund for individuals that are ineligible for unemployment insurance because of their immigration status, providing an average $1,713 to undocumented immigrants who lost wages. This public–private partnership included an initial $10 million allocation from the Oregon legislature and over 100 Oregon community partners supporting the work of ensuring the program was available to immigrants statewide.

Most equity-driven: Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Washington State ensured their rental assistance programs were available to eligible state residents regardless of immigration status. California and Colorado extended their state earned income tax credit (EITC) to include those who file their taxes with an ITIN. This move is especially critical now given the evidence showing that EITCs reduce poverty amongst families with children.

COVID-19—Ensure Nutritional Assistance for all children through automatic issuance of Pandemic EBT: 29 states and DC have processes meant to reach all children.
What it is Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) was launched in the spring of 2020 to respond to children missing meals because of pandemic-driven school closures. Using federal dollars, states could provide between $250 to $450 per child in grocery benefits, based on the number of days schools closed in each state. All children eligible for free and reduced-price lunch meals were eligible for the program. States were initially tasked with covering half of the administrative costs of implementing the program, but that was waived when the program was extended through fiscal year 2021 to account for ongoing food insecurity and school closures. States were able to decide whether to participate in P-EBT and how to implement the program.
Why it’s important Food insecurity doubled among households with children when the pandemic hit, and families of color were especially hard hit. While national data is unavailable, the Massachussetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition found that 78 percent of mixed-status and undocumented immigrant households they surveyed reported food insecurity. Evidence suggests that P-EBT reduced food hardship among the lowest-income children and their families by providing additional financial resources to purchase food, addressing hunger for an estimated 2.7 to 3.9 million children. For undocumented and mixed status immigrant families in particular, P-EBT has been a critical part of an almost non-existent safety net when it has been automatically issued to eligible children.
How it varies While the Pandemic-EBT program is optional, all fifty states and Washington, D.C. have chosen to implement the program to support children eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Variation in program implementation, application processes, and state issuance of benefits though, has serious implications for undocumented and mixed-status immigrant families. A chilling effect keeping immigrant families from accessing public benefits arose out of confusion and ongoing litigation around public charge, meaning families avoided the very benefits that some states used to determine who was eligible for P-EBT, like SNAP, Medicaid, and CHIP. Some states also requested a social security number on the application for P-EBT benefits, even though the information was not required. These questions could discourage immigrant families from applying for their eligible children. For that reason, only states that—based on information from state education agencies, school districts, and schools on student eligibility for free and reduced-price lunch—directly issued the benefit to households without requesting additional information from the family unless necessary because of missing or outdated information, received a policy point on our evaluation for their implementation of P-EBT.

 

Safety

In terms of safety, three policies were identified and analyzed because they interrupt crimmigration: universal representation, limited collaboration with ICE, and misdemeanor sentencing laws.

Due Process and Universal Representation: 6 states and Washington, D.C. have allocated resources to include immigrants regardless of immigration status.
What it is People facing deportation proceedings in immigration court do not have the right to an attorney before federal law, interrupting due process. However, states can fill this gap by creating universal representation programs to ensure immigrants have access to legal representation before immigration courts.
Why it’s important When individuals show up to immigration court unrepresented by legal counsel, they are forced to face a complex and unfamiliar legal system without due process protections, which can result in mass deportations and missed potential opportunities for relief. When people are represented by legal counsel, they are over ten times as likely to be able to remain in the country, meaning fewer family separations detrimentally impacting children.
How it varies States vary in terms of the amount of money they have allocated toward ensuring due process before immigration courts, who is eligible for funded services, what services are included in funding, and whether the state contracts the work to existing community-based organizations or plays an active role in managing the initiative. However, even when the state manages the initiative, public–private partnerships that leverage existing resources have ensured program success. The model has generally been that pilot programs are started, and eventually scaled and implemented to reach immigrants across the state.

Most innovative: Oregon’s Equity Corps program is the first statewide universal representation program to leverage technology to connect immigrants to pro bono legal services. Trained community navigators conduct intake and referrals through a secure database maintained by software engineers, and then connect immigrants with appropriate attorneys.

Most equity-driven: New York’s Liberty Defense Project was the first state-led public–private project to help immigrants—regardless of status—get access to legal services and process. Administered by the governor’s Office for New Americans, the program provides direct representation to immigrants in deportation proceedings as well as other services, such as free legal consultations and screenings for immigrant New Yorkers, support with filing immigration applications, and Know Your Rights training.

Needs strengthening: There are challenges around determining whether funding for legal representation can provide residents with services and representation across state lines. This has been an area of concern in the Pacific Northwest, where many immigrants who reside in Oregon are detained in Tacoma, Washington. While both states have legal representation available to undocumented immigrants, their initial residence in one state but detainment in another state creates a complexity that must be addressed through inter-state collaboration.

Further, there are many initiatives that support immigrants facing deportation at the local level. These services tend to be concentrated in cities, meaning that immigrants residing in suburban and rural areas are left with nowhere to turn. States are in a position to play a critical role in ensuring equitable access to services for everyone, not just those in cities.

Limit Collaboration with Immigration Enforcement: 10 states and DC restrict the use of local resources for federal immigration purposes.
What it is States can prioritize protecting their immigrant populations from detention and deportation by restricting law enforcement within their jurisdiction from spending time, money, or other resources to collaborate with federal immigration enforcement.
Why it’s important Law enforcement officers are tasked with investigating
state criminal offenses and enforcing state criminal laws. States are not required to enforce federal civil immigration law, and when localities within their jurisdictions take on that work, they are often taking on the cost of doing so. Further, deportations harm more than the individuals directly affected—they are detrimental to entire families and communities. By limiting collaboration with immigration enforcement, states can guide law enforcement toward restoring relationships with the immigrant community and bringing them into the fold of public safety, limiting family separation, and focusing law enforcement on state and local priorities.
How it varies All states that have implemented policies limiting collaboration between law enforcement and ICE have clarified that law enforcement must adhere to judicial warrants and continue enforcing state criminal law for everyone, regardless of immigration status. However, states should not arrest or detain people solely based on federal law in the form of immigration detainers. States have a variety of tools to limit collaboration, including passing legislation that limits the sharing of data between law enforcement and immigration enforcement, forbids law enforcement from honoring ICE detainers, bans ICE from interrogating people held in jails, and prohibits law enforcement from asking about immigration status; furthermore, state governors or attorneys general can issue directives that end 287(g) agreements and restrict law enforcement agencies from working with ICE.

Needs strengthening: Reports have surfaced in California and Washington State that, despite state legislation limiting collaboration, some local law enforcement agencies violate or circumvent those laws. To ensure local law enforcement comply, the state could remove ambiguous exceptions from existing legislation, establish a process for the public to report violations, and require law enforcement agencies to face fines for violating state law.

364-Day Misdemeanor Sentencing Laws: 17 states have sentencing guidelines that protect immigrants from disparate punishment.
What it is  When misdemeanor sentencing is a year (365 days) or longer, immigrants can face deportation because the crime is considered one of moral turpitude based solely on length of punishment. By ensuring misdemeanor sentencing is limited to 364 days or less, states can protect noncitizens from facing deportation for misdemeanors.
Why not participating matters Revisiting state misdemeanor sentencing laws is critical so that immigrants do not end up facing the unintended consequences of being stripped of their immigration status (if they have a status other than citizen) and being subject to mandatory deportation for facing what is otherwise a minor misdemeanor charge, especially because immigration judges do not have discretion on whether these harsh penalties are imposed. This policy ensures equal justice applies to noncitizens, interrupting unfair punishment and preserving family unity for immigrant families.
How it varies States vary in what they consider a crime, how they categorize it, and the sentencing guidelines attached to those categories. This project did not delve into those intricacies, focusing instead on misdemeanor sentencing guidelines with limits of no more than 364 days. Simply decreasing misdemeanor sentencing, in many instances by a single day, ensures that immigrants are not unjustly punished for misdemeanors because of federal inadmissibility standards and do not end up facing substantially harsher sentences—in the form of deportation—for the same crime.

Limitations

The policy indicators chosen for this report are not all-encompassing. There are certain ways in which some states have advanced even further, implementing additional innovative policies that should and will positively impact undocumented and mixed-status immigrant families within their jurisdictions. Further, the analysis does not look at implementation. Nor does it consider how these policies were adopted, including how the grassroots organizing and mobilization efforts occurring within each state advocated, and continue to advocate, for more inclusive policy, and the equally powerful organizing work that goes into staving off restrictive policy. Policies meant to exclude undocumented individuals have a wide-reaching impact that can be detrimental to entire families and communities. Harmful policies were not discussed, so as to maintain attention on how to make progress.

How the States Performed

State Number of identified policies in place Rubric Score
California 13 of 15 Supportive
Illinois 12 of 15 Supportive
District of Columbia 12 of 15 Supportive
New York 11 of 15 Moderately Supportive
Oregon 11 of 15 Moderately Supportive
Washington 11 of 15 Moderately Supportive
New Jersey 10 of 15 Moderately Supportive
Connecticut 7 of 15 Slightly Supportive
New Mexico 7 of 15 Slightly Supportive
Colorado 6 of 15 Slightly Supportive
Hawaii 6 of 15 Slightly Supportive
Maryland 5 of 15 Slightly Supportive
Massachusetts 5 of 15 Slightly Supportive
Nevada 5 of 15 Slightly Supportive
Virginia 5 of 15 Slightly Supportive
Delaware 4 of 15 Slightly Supportive
Michigan 4 of 15 Slightly Supportive
Minnesota 4 of 15 Slightly Supportive
Ohio 4 of 15 Slightly Supportive
Oklahoma 4 of 15 Slightly Supportive
Rhode Island 4 of 15 Slightly Supportive
Utah 4 of 15 Slightly Supportive
Vermont 4 of 15 Slightly Supportive
Arkansas 3 of 15  Not Supportive
Texas 3 of 15  Not Supportive
Wisconsin 3 of 15  Not Supportive
Wyoming 3 of 15  Not Supportive
Arizona 2 of 15  Not Supportive
Florida 2 of 15  Not Supportive
Idaho 2 of 15  Not Supportive
Iowa 2 of 15  Not Supportive
Kansas 2 of 15  Not Supportive
Kentucky 2 of 15  Not Supportive
Montana 2 of 15  Not Supportive
Nebraska 2 of 15  Not Supportive
North Carolina 2 of 15  Not Supportive
South Carolina 2 of 15  Not Supportive
South Dakota 2 of 15  Not Supportive
Tennessee 2 of 15  Not Supportive
Alabama 1 of 15  Not Supportive
Alaska 1 of 15  Not Supportive
Indiana 1 of 15  Not Supportive
Maine 1 of 15  Not Supportive
Mississippi 1 of 15  Not Supportive
Missouri 1 of 15  Not Supportive
New Hampshire 1 of 15  Not Supportive
North Dakota 1 of 15  Not Supportive
Pennsylvania 1 of 15  Not Supportive
West Virginia 1 of 15  Not Supportive
Louisiana 0 of 15  Not Supportive
Georgia 0 of 15 Not Supportive

About the Author

Portrait of Rosario Villarreal, she has straight black hair, tortoise shell glasses, and a wide smile.
Rosario Quiroz Villarreal Education & Early Years

Rosario Quiroz Villarreal is an advocate for immigrants and students. Growing up as an undocumented immigrant, Rosario understood that her parents made sacrifices in moving to a new country in order to secure better opportunities for the future. At Next100, Rosario focuses on protecting the rights and access to education of immigrant students, creating more culturally inclusive classrooms, and interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline.

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