Giving undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses and in-state tuition could help the economy, report says

(Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

If Virginia offered undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses, in-state tuition and state financial aid and subsidized health care, the state could reap economic and social benefits, a new report says.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive Washington D.C. think tank, recommended four policies to “welcome immigrants … into the mainstream economy and foster community well-being”:

  • Allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses, which could make the roads safer and drive down insurance costs
  • Giving undocumented immigrants access to in-state college tuition and financial aid would allow them to enter the workforce more easily and create more workers in the state.
  • Strengthening labor laws, like making sure people are paid minimum wage, would benefit all workers, but undocumented workers are more likely to be the victims of wage violations.
  • Expanding health care coverage to all children would improve long-term outcomes and ease the economic burden of being uninsured.

Virginia is one of 21 states that hasn’t enacted any of the four policies. The University of Virginia recently decided to allow students in the country with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status to receive institutional financial aid from private sources.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants pay nearly $12 billion annually in state and local taxes, an amount that could grow to nearly $14 billion if they had a pathway to citizenship.

“States can strive to treat all people with dignity and maximize the contributions of all of their residents, regardless of origin or legal status,” the report stated. “Giving all residents access to economic opportunity would enable them to earn higher wages, spend more in the economy and contribute more to the tax base from which states fund schools and other investments that are critical to a strong economy.”

The report did not include figures for how much enacting the policies might cost. Estimates on the cost of providing health care to undocumented immigrants nationwide, widely supported by the field of Democratic presidential hopefuls, are tough to come by, The New York Times reported last month. In California alone, however, the cost of covering all people over the age of 19 who were in the country illegally was pegged at $3.4 billion, the Associated Press reported.

The Virginia General Assembly has historically rejected efforts to grant immigrants driving privileges, despite some bi-partisan support and a past endorsement from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.  Four years after Connecticut allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, though, the state saw “a reduction in hit-and-run crashes and a steep decline in the number of people found guilty of unlicensed driving,” NPR reported.