Pro-Immigrant policies strengthen local, state economies  

By: - August 30, 2019 1:29 am
logo of Wisconsin campaign for immigrant driver's licenses

courtesy of Voces de la Frontera

A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that local governments can take  four key steps to better integrate immigrants and strengthen local economies and communities.

“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. On the flip side, “Harsh anti-immigrant policies, in contrast, harm workers and their children and likely weaken the economy.”

Wisconsin is one of only 21 states that have not enacted any of the four policies recommended in the report:

Those steps include driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, in-state tuition and financial aid for resident college students who are noncitizens, stronger labor law enforcement, and expanding health-care coverage for all children, including immigrants.

Gov. Evers proposed making two of the recommended changes in his budget proposal. One was  removing the ban on driver’s licenses for non-citizens. The other was applying in-state tuition rates for resident youth who are undocumented. The Joint Finance Committee removed both of the provisions.

Wisconsin’s 86,000 immigrants who are undocumented pay $72 million annually in state and local taxes,  Kids Forward, a nonprofit group that focuses on the wellbeing of Wisconsin children, points out in a statement on the CBBP report. “ And Wisconsin households headed by a person who is undocumented pay a larger share of their income in state and local taxes (7.5%) than the top one percent of Wisconsin households (6.2%).”

Kids Forward released a study earlier this year that showed restoring  driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants would have a significant positive impact on the state.

According to that  research, removing the prohibition on undocumented immigrants obtaining driver licenses would result in:

* Improved family stability. An estimated 32,000 residents of Wisconsin would gain driver licenses, with 12,000 of those residents living with children who are U.S. citizens.

* Additional workers with the qualifications that employers need. About 22,000 workers would obtain licenses, including 8,000 that work in the manufacturing sector and 7,000 that work in the leisure and hospitality industry.

* Fewer uninsured drivers. The number of Wisconsin drivers who don’t have insurance would drop by an estimated 28,000. The share of drivers who are on the road who don’t have insurance would drop from 14.3% to 13.6%.

* Lower insurance premiums. With fewer uninsured drivers, drivers with insurance would be less likely to make claims against their own insurance for accidents involving uninsured drivers. The result would be $16 million in premium savings for drivers who already have insurance.

“Wisconsin’s immigrant communities make significant contributions to Wisconsin’s schools, communities, and economy and deserve to be treated humanely,” said Kids Foward CEO Ken Taylor. “They help Wisconsin maintain strong, vibrant communities and can further contribute to the livelihood of our state by being allowed to obtain driver licenses.”

“This is a Wisconsin issue,” Taylor added. “These are Wisconsin families. These are Wisconsin roads. Wisconsin state lawmakers hold the power to remove barriers to driver licenses and make our state a more just and safe place.”


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Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.