Pennsylvania Can Strengthen Its Economy and Communities with Four Inclusive Policies for Immigrants

John Neurohr |

HARRISBURG – 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. Giving all residents access to economic opportunity would enable them to earn higher wages, spend more at local 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.

“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 the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained.

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

1.     Driver’s licenses for immigrants who are undocumented can help immigrants who are undocumented 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. Pennsylvania is not one of them.

2.     In-state tuition and 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 and 12 of these states plus D.C. offer state financial aid to students who are undocumented. Pennsylvania has done neither.

3.     Stronger labor law enforcement will ensure that all workers, regardless of immigration status, are paid what they earn and will help level the playing field for businesses and workers. Despite the economic costs of lost wages and tax revenues, many states—including Pennsylvania—have few designated investigators to enforce the minimum wage.

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. Pennsylvania is not one of them.

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. In Pennsylvania they pay over $139 million in state and local taxes. And, both nationwide and in Pennsylvania, households headed by a person who is undocumented pay a larger share of their income in state and local taxes than the top one percent of U.S. households.