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Promoting Equality: City and State Policy to Ensure Immigrant Safety and Inclusion

In June of 2016, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision affirming a lower court decision blocking implementation of two programs—an enhanced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program—that would have provided temporary relief from deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants. The decision was the latest in a series of major setbacks immigrants and organizers have faced in recent years at the federal level—from Congress’s repeated failure to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would have provided young undocumented immigrants with a pathway to citizenship, to the stalled effort to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Despite these disappointments at the federal level, there have been major strides to protect and include immigrant families at the state and local level. Grassroots organizations led by immigrants have built relationships with local elected officials and policy makers. Working together they have envisioned, enacted, and implemented an exciting range of initiatives that step in where the federal government has failed and that promote inclusion, equity, access to vital benefits, and access to justice. Local legislators and the constituents they serve have come to realize that denying basic rights to large numbers of people is not only unethical, but has a negative impact on the economic, cultural and social health of cities. Over the last decade, immigrants, their allies, and city and state governments have advanced innovative policies designed to promote opportunities for immigrants, to eliminate discrimination against immigrants in a wide range of contexts—from law enforcement to education, and to make it possible for immigrant communities to access the services and benefits to which they are entitled. This report offers a survey of the state and local immigrant rights policy landscape, describes the variety of policies and programs now in place in different jurisdictions, outlines the benefits these policies bring, and identifies key considerations in each case. The policies highlighted fall into two categories.