Inclusive policies that expand opportunity also improve the economy

Clark Biegler
Dec 14, 2015

Undocumented immigrants already contribute to the national economy in many ways. Many of them work and pay taxes, and nationally the share of their incomes they pay in taxes actually exceeds the rate that top earners pay. In 2012, undocumented immigrants paid $11.8 billion in state and local taxes nationally, including $87 million in Minnesota.

These are some of the takeaways from a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that highlights policies states can implement to build a more prosperous economy that is inclusive of undocumented immigrants.

Policies that expand opportunity not only acknowledge the contributions that undocumented immigrants already make, but also build a stronger economy. Inclusive policies allow undocumented immigrants to make full use of their skills and increase their earnings, much of which will be spent in local businesses.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report focuses on three policy approaches to build a more inclusive economy:

  • Strengthening labor law enforcement will ensure that undocumented immigrants – who are sometimes paid “under the table” – are properly paid for their work. Ensuring undocumented workers are paid fairly can encourage higher paying or better quality jobs for all workers because it eliminates the ability of some employers to have a competitive advantage by ignoring community wage standards.
  • Providing in-state tuition and financial aid for higher education is a common-sense way to acknowledge the investments that have been made in young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and offer them the opportunity to gain the education and skills that will help them make stronger contributions as workers.
  • Expanding access to driver’s licenses to immigrants, regardless of their status, broadens their job opportunities and builds the workforce in local economies.

Minnesota has already taken some of these steps by providing in-state tuition and financial aid at our state’s public colleges and universities to undocumented students who have gone to high school in Minnesota.

But policymakers can do more. Last session the Legislature considered bills that would have expanded access to driver’s licenses to all Minnesotans who pass driver’s tests, regardless of their immigration status. Failure to pass that legislation was a missed opportunity to strengthen Minnesota’s economy, as workers would be able to get to their jobs safely and reliably, have more flexibility for scheduling, and have greater access to job opportunities.

Minnesota benefits from the contributions of immigrants in many ways, but our immigration policies haven’t kept up with the changing needs of our economy. With a tightening labor market and a projected labor shortage on the horizon, Minnesota can’t afford to leave qualified workers behind. Thoughtful policy changes can ensure our state has the workforce it needs for a strong future.

-Clark Biegler