Dimension 1:

Right to Free Movement

There long been a fixation on legal status provided by the federal government as providing a sharp line that demarcates noncitizen from citizen. While the American passport has become the predominant form of national identification since World War I, its primary function is to protect citizens and regulate movement across national borders. By contrast, states have considerable leeway in controlling the free movement rights of immigrants. 

We argue that citizenship rights are multi-dimensional and federated in the United States.  We argue that the the first dimension is the right to free movement. 

Historically, government policies have expanded or contracted the right to free movement, for Blacks, immigrants, paupers, the homeless, the poor, Native Americans, and other marginalized groups. While Jim Crow segregation ended in the 1960s, stop-and-frisk policies, the war on drugs, and mass incarceration continues to contract the right of African Americans to free movement, among other rights.

States today can provide expansions in the right to free movement through laws granting access to driver’s licenses and auto insurance, laws limiting the impounding of cars for those without driver’s licenses, and laws expanding access to public transportation, public buildings, and safe spaces from federal immigration enforcement. At the same time, states can also contract these rights by passing laws to restrict access to state government buildings, deny driver’s licenses (as well as criminalize those driving without licenses), and by linking state and local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement to routine traffic stops.


Immigrant Free Movement: Top 5 States

California (score of 9)
New York (score of 3)
New Jersey (score of 3)
Colorado (score of 3)
Nevada (score of 3)

Key Facts

  • 15 states and the District of Columbia grant undocumented residents driver’s licenses

  •  5 states (California, New York, New Jersey, Colorado, Nevada) offer additional protections to their driver’s licenses: 1) anti-discrimination, 2) confidentiality, and 3) barring local officials from sharing driver information for immigration enforcement purposes.

  • 1 state (California) establishes “safe spaces” for its schools, health facilities, libraries, courthouses and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement for all of its residents, regardless of immigration status.