Minnesota has lots of opportunities to support immigrants, strengthen economy, according to new report

Clark Goldenrod
Sep 05, 2019
During a time when immigrants are being targeted by harsh federal policies, states have a unique role to play to welcome immigrants into our communities. A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities puts forth four policies that state policymakers can adopt to make their states more inclusive to immigrants and build their economies

Minnesotans who are undocumented are already strong parts of our communities. They make important contributions to Minnesota's economy, including paying an estimated $83 million in state and local taxes each year. Policies that expand opportunity not only acknowledge the contributions that undocumented immigrants already make, but also build a stronger economy for all of us. Inclusive policies allow undocumented immigrants to make full use of their skills and increase their earnings, much of which will be spent at local businesses.

The report recommends: 
  • Driver’s licenses for immigrants regardless of immigration status, which can help folks fill jobs in their communities, make roads safer, and modestly reduce insurance premiums for everyone. Fourteen states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico allow immigrants to get driver’s licenses regardless of their status.
  • In-state tuition and financial aid for college students who are undocumented, which helps to boost the skills and wages of the state workforce. When college seems more attainable, it can drive higher rates of high school graduation and college attendance. Twenty-one states (including Minnesota) and D.C. have adopted “tuition equity” laws, and twelve of these states plus D.C. offer financial aid to undocumented students. 
  • Stronger labor law enforcement policies that better ensure that all workers, regardless of immigration status, are paid what they earn. It also levels the playing field when all businesses play by the same rules. Lost wages and tax revenues hurt the economy when workers aren't fully paid for their work. 
  • Expanding health coverage to all children, regardless of immigration status, which can improve long-term health outcomes as well as long-term economic benefits for children and for states and local communities. Only six states and D.C. offer health care coverage to  children regardless of status.
While Minnesota has already taken some of these steps, including providing in-state tuition and recently improving wage enforcement laws, the report highlights that our state has a way to go so that immigrants are better included in our communities and our economy. Minnesota policymakers can do more. 

During the 2019 Legislative Session, a broad range of advocates worked to pass a provision so that all Minnesotans could apply for driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status. The provision passed the Minnesota House, but did not become law. Failure to pass that legislation was a missed opportunity to strengthen Minnesota’s economy and acknowledge the immigrants who are working, learning, and living in our communities. 

Minnesota also should improve its financial aid for immigrant students. Minnesota Dreamers – young people who came to the country as children and do not have legal status – are ineligible to receive federal Pell Grants. However, the State Grant formula currently calculates financial aid assuming that students receive this federal grant, meaning that Dreamers receive much less state financial aid than their peers. This past session, both Governor Tim Walz's and the House's budget proposals would have increased the grant award for these students, making college education more in reach for all of Minnesota’s young people. Unfortunately this proposal too did not become law. 

And finally, while Minnesota has one of the best rates of health insurance coverage in the country, undocumented immigrants often do not have access to affordable health insurance. This means that they're forced to pay out-of-pocket for health care. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report emphasizes the need for health insurance for children. In addition, in 2016 a state Health Care Financing Task Force went further and recommended that all low-income Minnesotans (including adults) who are uninsured because of their immigration status should be able to enroll in MinnesotaCare. When people can get the health care they need, it can lead to better long-term health outcomes as well as long-term economic benefits for our state and local communities. 

Minnesota benefits from the contributions of immigrants in many ways, but our policies don't fully reflect the inclusive state we aim to be, and haven’t kept up with the changing needs of our economy, including a tightening labor market and the need to bring businesses and vitality to our towns and neighborhoods. Through thoughtful policy changes, Minnesota can ensure our state has the thriving communities and workforce it needs for a strong future.