Caught Between a Well-Intentioned State and a Hostile Federal System: Local Implementation of Inclusive Immigrant Policies

Early View Original Scholarship
Health Equity

Policy Points:

  • Inclusive state immigrant policies that expand rights and resources for immigrants may improve population health, but little is known about their local-level implementation.
  • Local actors that have anti-immigrant attitudes can hinder the implementation of state policies, whereas the persistent influence of anti-immigrant federal policies reinforces barriers to accessing health and other resources granted by state policies.
  • Local actors that serve immigrants and support state policy implementation lack the resources to counter anti-immigrant climates and federal policy threats.

Context: In the United States, inclusive state-level policies can advance immigrant health and health care access by extending noncitizens’ access to public benefits, workplace rights, and protections from immigration enforcement. Although state policies carry promise as structural population health interventions, there has been little examination of their implementation at the local level. Local jurisdictions play multiple roles in state policy implementation and possess distinct immigration climates. Examining the local implementation of state immigrant policy can address challenges and opportunities to ensure the health benefits of inclusive policies are realized equitably across states’ regions.

Methods: To examine the local implementation of state immigrant policies, we selected a purposive sample of California counties with large immigrant populations and distinct social and political dynamics and conducted and analyzed in-depth interviews with 20 community-based organizations that provided health, safety net, and other services.

Findings: We found that there were tensions between the inclusionary goals of state immigrant policies and local anti-immigrant climates and federal policy changes. First, there were tensions between state policy goals and resistance from local law enforcement agencies and policymakers (e.g., Board of Supervisors). Second, because of the ongoing threats from federal immigration policies, there was a mismatch between the services and resources provided by state policies and local community needs. Finally, organizations that served immigrants were responsible for contributing to policy implementation but lacked resources to meet community needs while countering local resistance and federal policy threats.

Conclusions: This study contributes knowledge regarding the challenges that emerge after state immigrant policies are enacted. The tensions among state immigrant policies, local immigration climates, and federal policy changes indicate that state immigrant policies are not implemented equally across state communities, resulting in challenges and limited benefits from policies for many immigrant communities.


De Trinidad Young M, Tafolla S, Perez-Lua FM. Caught Between a Well-Intentioned State and a Hostile Federal System: Local Implementation of Inclusive Immigrant Policies. Milbank Q. 2023;101(4):0918.