More Resources


  • Jane Andrade
    Director of Public Affairs
  • Jon Kuhl
    Public Affairs & Media Manager
    Washington, D.C.
Jan. 29, 2013

Immigration Laws by the Numbers in 2012: Down, But Still High

NCSL Releases New Report: 2012 Immigration-Related Laws and Resolutions in the States (Jan. 1–Dec. 31, 2012)

The number of immigration-related bills introduced and passed at the state level in 2012 dipped in comparison with the last five years, yet remains high overall. There are several explanations for the dip, including the May 2012 Supreme Court Arizona v. United States ruling in which only the lawful stop provision was upheld, and the fact that four state legislatures did not meet in 2012, including Montana, North Dakota, Nevada and Texas.

“States seemed to put the brakes on immigration bills early in 2012, pending budget and redistricting debates, and most important, the review of Arizona’s immigration law by the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Ann Morse, director of the NCSL Immigrant Policy Project. “By the end of 2012, however, the number of laws was down by only 13 percent, meaning that states continue to engage on immigration issues in budgets, law enforcement, employment, licensing and benefits.”  

In 2012, state legislators in 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico introduced 983 bills and resolutions related to immigration. This marks a decline of 39 percent compared with 2011, during which 1,606 bills were introduced. The decrease in the number of enacted bills and resolutions was less pronounced: 267 in 2012 compared with 306 in 2011, a decline of just 13 percent.

Of the bills and resolutions enacted, nearly a quarter were budget related, appropriating funds for federal programs such as English language acquisition, naturalization and refugee resettlement.

Law enforcement legislation accounted for 17 percent of the total. Four states—Kansas, Louisiana, Maine and Utah—enacted laws that specify permissible documents for registering and maintaining records on sex offenders, including travel and immigration documents.

Employment, identification/driver’s license and public benefits comprised 9 percent of all 2012 immigration laws. Massachusetts, for example, prohibited the registration of a motor vehicle or trailer unless the person holds a license, specified identification card, Social Security number or proof of legal presence.

Education and health care each accounted for eight percent of the total. In New Hampshire, legislation was enacted requiring every student receiving in-state tuition to sign an affidavit of legal residence beginning in 2013. Nebraska restored prenatal care and pregnancy-related services for immigrant mothers through the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Human trafficking laws made up 6 percent of the total. A law passed in South Carolina makes it a crime to destroy, withhold or confiscate any type of identification document including a driver’s license, passport or immigration document in the attempt to detain a victim.

Of the 111 immigration-related resolutions passed in 2012, 12 urged the U.S. Congress and president to take action on immigration, trade, tourism and border security.

NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs 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.