By Ann Morse
NCSL’s Task Force on Immigration and the States has been examining immigration challenges and proposing common-sense reforms since it was formed in 2006.
This week, task force cochairs Nevada State Senator Mo Denis and Nebraska State Senator John McCollister highlighted success stories in their states for the National Immigration Forum’s Leading the Way conference. Check out a livestream from the conference starting at about 3:40 p.m. ET today.
In Nebraska, immigrants are about 7% of the population and represent a large percentage of the workforce in the food processing sector. Also, the state has a sizable population of undocumented children granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as Dreamers.
“The Dreamer kids in Nebraska are unusually motivated,” according to McCollister. “They are the entrepreneurs in our state and more likely to start businesses. They are a real economic boost.”
“Nevada is heavily dependent on immigrants in hospitality and gaming, the No. 1 economic driver in the state,” noted Denis. “I think everybody recognizes we could not exist as a state economically without immigrants. As for DACA recipients, we should be taking advantage of the investments we’ve made in their education. They fill gaps in Nevada’s hospitality industry, in management and in numerous professions.”
Lessons from the task force
NCSL’s task force has helped state legislators understand the challenges and contributions that immigrants bring to their states. The task force has gone to the border (both northern and southern), to the Federal Reserve in New York, and visited communities throughout the country to learn about the benefits and disadvantages of immigrants.
Through the research and briefings, we’ve learned that immigrants are a very positive benefit to the nation. The National Academy of Sciences report on immigrants’ economic impact found that by the second generation, immigrant children far surpass the economic achievements of their parents.
Both co-chairs emphasize the task force provides us with a forum to learn together as a bipartisan group, coming together to find solutions and offer recommendations for federal immigration reform. We need a permanent solution from Congress.
Bipartisan laws at the state level
Nevada established an Office of New Americans to promote and economic integration in 2019, modeled on other state examples brought before the task force. The office provides resources for immigrants, education and outreach, and help for small businesses and professional licensing. Nevada also passed AB275 to prohibit a denial of a professional license based solely on citizenship or immigration status, with more than two-thirds support in the legislature.
Nebraska, with its unique unicameral legislature, found support from liberals, moderates and conservatives in rural and urban areas to extend driver’s license cards for DACA recipients in 2015 (LB623). Without a driver’s license, you can’t work, get to church, or go to the doctor. In Nebraska, says McCollister. “We tend to be more pragmatic, and every bill gets a hearing in Nebraska.” The driver’s license bill was eventually passed over the governor’s veto with a supermajority. The following year, Nebraska extended professional licenses for dreamers.
Immigration reform needed
McCollister believes we need to provide leadership through the immigration task force and our respective legislatures. We need the immigrant community engaged in our economy. With Nebraska’s aging population, we need everybody, and a young vital immigrant workforce can contribute to our economic growth.
Denis said it took eight years to pass the driver’s authorization card for immigrants without documentation, which succeeded with both Democratic and Republican support. He recalled: “We were concerned these immigrants might be afraid to come forward, but 63,000 have applied and our roads are safer. We learned that we can work on common sense things together that benefit our community.”
To sum up, Congress can look at what we’ve learned, what we’ve done together, and use that to move forward.
Check out information on NCSL’s Task Force on Immigration and the States and immigration research including a searchable database of state immigration laws.
Ann Morse, based in NCSL’s Washington, DC office, staffs the Task Force on Immigration and the States.