Recent Immigrant-Friendly Laws

Posted on 01/4/14
By Esther Yu-Hsi Lee | Via ThinkProgress
Pro-immigration reform rally in Reno Navada in May last year. (Photo by occupyreno_media, Creative Commons License)
Pro-immigration reform rally in Reno Navada in May last year. (Photo by occupyreno_media, Creative Commons License)

“While Washington waffles on immigration, California’s moving ahead. I’m not waiting,” Governor Jerry Brown (D) said last year when he passed a series of state-level immigration laws to integrate his state’s undocumented population into American life. He wasn’t the only legislator who got tired of filling a gap left by Congress.


Other legislators took similar incremental steps to reform state and local laws while a permanent reform strategy for 11.7 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States languished in Congress. Here’s a look at some of the most immigrant-friendly state and local laws that took effect on New Year’s Day 2014:

Immigrant detainer policies

In perhaps the most wide-reaching state bill affecting the undocumented population, the California Trust Act would make local and state jails hold immigrants for federal immigration enforcement for possible deportation only if they have committed serious or violent crimes. The law challenges the federal “Secure Communities” program wherein low-level immigrant offenders, like those who received a speeding ticket, were also held and deported. The Trust Act affects 2.7 million undocumented immigrants living in California.


A similar law passed in Connecticut will make local law enforcement officials and courthouses honor federal immigrant hold requests only when detained immigrants are found to be a “dangerous or serious criminal.” State police began following the protocol set by Gov. Dannel Malloy (D-CT) more than a year ago. The law affects between 75,000 to 100,000 undocumented immigrants.

Driving privileges

In Nevada, thousands of people lined up outside the Department of Motor Vehicle offices to apply for driver authorization cards on January 2nd. During the 2013 Legislature, Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) signed a law granting immigrants the ability to apply for specially marked authorization cards, which must be renewed every year and cannot be used to board airplanes or to enter federal buildings. Undocumented immigrants must still pass a driver’s test and buy auto insurance. The law affects at least 60,000 immigrants.


In Vermont, undocumented immigrants are allowed to use their passports and consular cards to apply for driver privilege cards. They are similarly barred from entering federal buildings and boarding planes.


In Maryland, undocumented immigrants who can show proof of identification and pass written and road exams can apply for a “federally non-compliant” driver’s license, which does not grant access onto planes and federal buildings. The law will likely affect 100,000 immigrants. The state first created a specially marked license back in 2009 when the federal Real ID law required applicants to prove their legal status. About 95,000 immigrants who were unable to prove their legal status were given the specially marked license — some of those individuals are eligible to apply for the new driver’s license, which will be valid between five to eight years.


Two other laws in California and in Washington, D.C. haven’t gone into effect yet, but will likely take place sometime this year.

In-state tuition for undocumented college students

In late December, New Jersey passed a law allowing undocumented immigrants who fulfill some residency and high school graduation requirements to be eligible for in-state tuition. Under the New Jersey Tuition Equality Act, undocumented immigrants who attended a high school in New Jersey for three years and graduated with a diploma or diploma equivalent will be eligible for in-state tuition. They will be unable to access state financial aid. The in-state tuition rate averages $11,620, while the out-of-state rate averages $19,292. The law affects nearly 75,000 undocumented students.


Three other states, OregonColorado, and Minnesota, passed similar tuition equality laws last year which went into effect immediately.


On the local level, the St. Louis Community College in Missouri will begin allowing undocumented students who fulfill similar high school graduation requirements to be eligible for in-state tuition. The in-state tuition rate is $98 per credit hour, while the international student rate is $209 per credit hour, which is what the students previously paid.


At Eastern Michigan University, undocumented immigrants will be able to pay in-state tuition beginning fall 2014. EMU’s in-state tuition rate is about $9,400 a year while the out-of-state tuition rate is $24,900 a year. The school has set up a scholarship fund for such individuals.

Immigrant workers’ rights

In California, employers can no longer punish and retaliate immigrant workers for work-related complaints solely based on their legal status.

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