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States Propose Relief for Immigrants: Legislative Watch

The new administration hopes to achieve a shift in federal immigration policy. Recent proposals from state legislators reflect an existing climate of compassion, including financial support, health care and safety.

Immigration advocates in a rally in front of the Supreme Court.
Advocates for immigrants with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court June 15, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/TNS)
A recent federal court ruling that ordered the reinstatement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has renewed attention on immigration issues. It vacated a memorandum from the acting Homeland Security secretary that had pushed back against a Supreme Court ruling that DACA should be reinstated. 

This brought some measure of relief to nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, and to hundreds of thousands more who also hope to apply for the program and gain the right to work and study without fear of deportation. The Department of Homeland Security has attacked the federal court decision, however, describing it as “clearly not sound law or logic.”

There’s general agreement that federal legislation is the only way to end legal battles around DACA. Members of Congress from both parties have put forward bills that would protect Dreamers, and the president-elect has pledged to reinstate DACA within the first 100 days of his administration. 

Dreamers aren’t the only immigrants in communities across America. The Pew Research Center estimates that in all, 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants are in the country, about a quarter of all foreign-born persons living in the U.S. 

The incoming administration has bold plans to reshape federal policy regarding immigration, to reclaim the values of a “nation of immigrants.” In recent months, state legislatures have introduced proposals that could improve the lives of residents whose access to health care, stimulus relief or justice could be affected by their immigration status. Some examples:

Vermont H968 establishes an economic stimulus equity program that will make it possible for adult residents who were ineligible to receive a CARES Act economic impact payment due to their immigration status to receive an award of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child. Awards will be paid by the state; eligibility will be subject to adjusted gross income limits.

HB2010, a Missouri appropriations bill, includes funding for a contract to a nonprofit organization that could help senior refugees and immigrants establish citizenship and qualify for Medicare. The services envisioned for this population include tutoring, assistance with completing forms required by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and help with documentation.

Ohio SB381 creates a new African immigrants grants and gift fund. Money transferred or appropriated to the fund is to be used to support the work of the New African Immigrants Commission, created to help sub-Saharan immigrants to Ohio achieve self-sufficiency.

HR1058 in Pennsylvania urges the U.S. Senate to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), first enacted in 1994. It notes that the 2000 VAWA reauthorization improved protections for immigrant women, and that a 2005 reauthorization added protections for women present in the U.S. as the result of human trafficking. It highlights the fact that a bill reauthorizing VAWA passed the House with bipartisan support and was sent to the Senate in April 2019, where it has remained since “with no indication that the bill will be considered.”

Massachusetts S2963, intended to provide “justice, equity and accountability in law enforcement,” has passed the state Senate and House and was sent to the governor at the beginning of December. Immigration or citizenship status is included in all provisions intended to prevent profiling, bias or differential treatment by law enforcement, along with characteristics such as race, color, gender identity and sexual orientation.

S8954A, a New York bill, requires judges and court clerks at all levels to receive 10 hours of training regarding issues related to domestic violence every two years. This training is to include education regarding the ways that vulnerability to abuse can be affected by factors including immigration status.

New Jersey A5029, the New Jersey Public Option Health Care Act, aims to address the needs of residents who have no, or inadequate, health coverage. The program would be funded by obtaining waivers and approvals through which federal funds paid to the state could be used to create a public option for residents. The program would be open to individuals whose primary place of residence is in the state, without regard to their immigration status.

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Carl Smith is a senior staff writer for Governing and covers a broad range of issues affecting states and localities. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @governingwriter.
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