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Press Release: Immigrant-related laws March 2010

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April 29, 2010

States Continue to Grapple With Immigration

Absence of federal legislation leads many to enact workable local solutions

WASHINGTON – As the national debate intensifies around Arizona’s new immigration law, every state in session has been addressing immigrant issues in their legislatures, according to a new report from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In just the first three months of 2010, more than 1,180 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants and refugees were introduced in state legislatures across the country. And of those bills, 71 laws were enacted and 87 resolutions adopted in 25 states.

“This level of legislative activity indicates that states continue to perceive local challenges associated with the lack of federal immigration reform,” said Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos of the Washington Legislature and co-chair of the NCSL Task Force on Immigration and the States. “States and local governments will continue to adopt policies unique to their situations, creating an effective patchwork quilt of laws that will not enhance security, promote economic growth, or strengthen the social fabric of our country without comprehensive federal legislation. States shoulder an important responsibility for the integration of our New Americans and, as a key partner of the federal government, we look forward to working together to find effective solutions.”

The number of bills this year is more than the first quarter of 2009, when 50 states considered 1,040 bills and resolutions, and 25 states passed 35 laws and adopted 40 resolutions. As in previous years, the top issues for bills related to immigrants remain employment, identification/drivers’ licenses, and law enforcement for bills related to immigrants. 

Getting the most attention this year has been Arizona’s new immigration law (SB 1070). Passed by the legislature April 19 and signed by the governor on April 23, the law is not included in the overall tally of state laws since it was enacted after the end of the first quarter. According to analysis by the  Immigrant Policy Project, a program of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the law:

  • Requires law enforcement to reasonably attempt to determine immigration status of a person involved in a lawful contact where reasonable suspicion of unlawful presence exists; 
  • Allows state residents to sue state and local agencies for noncompliance;
  • Creates a state violation for failure to carry an alien registration document;
  • Establishes crimes and penalties for trespassing by illegal aliens, stopping to hire or soliciting work under specified circumstances, and transporting, harboring or concealing unlawful aliens.

Other 2010 immigrant-related state laws address education, human trafficking and public benefits. In Washington State, for example, the legislature passed a law to form a collaboration of state and local education agencies to improve high school graduation rates of at-risk youth, including recent immigrants.  

Virginia enacted a law requiring state agencies, contractors and employers with 15 or more employees to enroll in the E-Verify Program by December 1, 2012. The law also stipulates employers must use the program for each newly hired employee who is to perform work within the state.

Also, New Mexico passed a resolution asking Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform that includes tightening border security, reuniting immigrant families, creating a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, and developing a legal means for temporary workers to enter the United States.

“We can come to a bipartisan agreement on this: Without Congress and the administration leading the way on immigration reform, states will be forced to make some tough choices as the burden of handling this issue falls onto state lawmakers,” said Senator John Watkins of Virginia and co-chair of the NCSL Task Force on Immigration and the States. “Federal immigration reform needs to include immigration enforcement, earned legalization, improved visa processes and an efficient temporary worker program, and impact assistance for states.”  

This report, developed by NCSL’s Immigrant Policy Project, is a snapshot of immigration laws introduced and enacted in 45 states. No bills related to immigration were introduced in Montana, Nevada, North Dakota or Texas as these states are not in regular session in 2010; or in North Carolina, which begins its legislative session in May. A more comprehensive overview of state immigrant-related laws will be released in July.

State laws related to immigration have increased dramatically in recent years:

  • In 2006, 570 bills were introduced, 84 laws were enacted and 12 resolutions adopted.
  • In 2007, 1,562 bills were introduced, 240 laws were enacted and 50 resolutions adopted.
  • In 2008, 1,305 bills were introduced, 206 laws were enacted and 64 resolutions adopted.
  • In 2009, more than 1,500 bills were introduced, 222 laws were enacted and 131 resolutions adopted.

 

Main Topics

Bills Introduced

Number of States

Enacted
Laws

Number of States

Budgets

73

25

11

10

Education

106

29

8

5

Employment

173

36

7

7

Health

76

27

3

3

Human Trafficking

22

12

2

2

ID/Licensing

156

32

13

9

Law Enforcement

136

33

8

4

Miscellaneous

173

34

14

9

Omnibus/Multi-Issue

14

10

1

1

Public Benefits

39

18

1

1

Voting

24

12

3

1

Resolutions

188

31

87

24

Source: NCSL, Immigrant Policy Project, 2010

Although the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over immigration policy (the terms and conditions for entry into the United States), states and localities have become responsible for immigrant policy (the policies that help newcomers integrate into the country’s economic, social and civic life).

The Immigrant Policy Project serves state and local policymakers and their staff by providing timely, impartial and succinct information on immigration activities at the federal, state and local levels. This unique collaboration among state and local groups allows the project to listen to policymakers’ concerns directly and respond with targeted, balanced research. The project has focused on the federal-state-local partnership in the resettlement of immigrants and refugees, including immigration-related state laws affecting migrants and civic engagement.

This publication and PDF are registered with the NCSL copyright and may not be reproduced, uploaded or distributed in any way in its entirety.

NCSL is the bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staff of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.

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