State Lawmakers Work Toward Better Immigration Policies


NCSL NewsNCSL Releases Midyear Immigration Review

Minneapolis—Lawmakers in statehouses across the United States have approved 132 immigration-related laws so far this year, representing a nine percent decline since 2013, according to a report issued by the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

As of June 30, legislators in 41 states and the District of Columbia enacted 132 laws and 84 resolutions related to immigration, for a total of 216. During the same time period in 2013, legislators approved 146 laws and 231 resolutions, for a total of 377. 

According to the report, this decrease is due in part to four states not holding legislative sessions in 2014, notably the state of Texas, which enacted 101 laws and resolutions in 2013 alone. While the numbers of state laws and resolutions are down, states continue to consider immigration issues in a range of policy areas, notably budgets, law enforcement, employment and driver’s licenses.

Senator John Watkins (R-Va.) says, “While Congress cannot seem to take action on immigration issues, states remain engaged in debating and solving immigration challenges whether we are discussing services or enforcement.” Currently, Watkins serves as co-chair for NCSL’s Task Force on Immigration and the States. “We continue to urge the federal government to partner with states to come to an agreement on national immigration reform." 

Among all of the legislation, the bulk of laws and resolutions (25 percent) can be attributed to immigration-related provisions in budget and appropriations laws, authorizing funds for such purposes as providing for immigration enforcement, English language and citizenship classes and migrant and refugee programs.

The second largest area (17 percent), involved laws and resolutions that dealt with immigration law enforcement, this includes regulations pertaining to those working as a notary public or immigration consultant. A few examples of such laws include: knowingly accepting the identity of another person, immigrants being certified by the Fla. Board of Bar Examiners and prohibiting a notary public from acting as an immigration lawyer.  

Education issues represented seven percent of state laws and resolutions related to immigration. The majority of these laws deal with immigration and residency requirements for higher education, in particular, in-state tuition and financial aid. Notably, Florida and Tennessee have now granted out-of-state tuition to children with unauthorized immigrant parents. Washington extended state financial assistance to students who received temporary relief from deportation (deferred action) and expanded State Need Grant eligibility to include Washington resident students who are presumed unauthorized.

Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-Wa.) said, “As a country, we need to recognize our immigration system needs to be fixed.” Like Senator Watkins, Santos is also co-chair of NCSL’s Task Force on Immigration and the States.  “States have long worked to identify policies to assist immigrants and their families to integrate into our neighborhoods, our communities, our schools, and our workplaces.”

NCSL’s Immigration Policy Project produces reports three times a year on state laws that address immigration issues. This report summarizes all enacted legislation, offering examples of laws and resolutions, from January through June. The December year-end report summarizes all laws and resolutions enacted, and highlights examples of new laws or trends.

Attendees at this week’s NCSL Legislative Summit in Minneapolis will hear from business and political leaders on the competition for global talent and how to reform the nation’s immigration system to benefit the American economy. Speakers include: Senator Curt Bramble from Utah, Senator Mo Denis from Nevada, Mike Fernandez from Cargill and Matt Walker of the National Restaurant Association in Washington, D.C. The session will take place from 3:45 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 21 at the Minneapolis Convention Center, room 101 ABIJ.

See a copy of the midyear review

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.