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July 28, 2010

States Step Up to the Plate on Immigration

With no federal legislation, legislators move to enact local solutions

LOUISVILLE- With no federal immigration reform in the foreseeable future, state legislatures will continue to lead the way in addressing the complex and challenging issue of immigration. According to a new immigration report from the National Conference of State Legislatures, every state in regular session addressed immigrant issues in their legislatures in 2010.

In the first six months of 2010, state legislators introduced 1,374 bills and resolutions in 46 states relating to immigrants and refugees. This number is comparable to the first half of 2009, when 50 states considered more than 1,400 bills and resolutions pertaining to immigrants. An additional 10 bills are pending Governor's approval. Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas are not in regular session in 2010.

As of June 30, 2010, 44 state legislatures passed 191 laws and adopted 128 resolutions. Five bills were vetoed, leaving a total of 314 enacted laws and resolutions, a 21 percent increase over the 259 laws and resolutions enacted during the same time period in 2009. An additional 23 were pending Governor's approval in states and three bills were vetoed. Note that in 2010, Delaware and North Carolina have introduced bills but have yet to enact legislation.

"The states are very concerned about the lack of action in the federal government," said Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos of the Washington Legislature and co-chair of the NCSL Task Force on Immigration and the States. "Without comprehensive federal legislation, states will continue to step forward to create local solutions. Ultimately, immigration requires federal reform, and states look forward to working with the federal government to find effective comprehensive solutions."

As in previous years, employment, law enforcement and identification/drivers' licenses remained the top issues addressed in state legislation related to immigrants.

Getting the most attention this year has been Arizona's new immigration law (SB 1070). 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.

As of June 30, bills similar to Arizona's had been introduced in five state legislatures: South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Michigan. Note that the Minnesota and South Carolina legislative sessions have ended.

"State lawmakers are forced to have to pick up the pieces of a broken federal immigration policy," 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, a legal system to citizenship, improved visa processes and an efficient temporary worker program, and impact assistance for states."

State laws related to immigration have increased dramatically over the past decade:

  • In 2005, 300 bills were introduced, 38 laws were enacted and 6 vetoed
  • 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.

This report, developed by NCSL's Immigrant Policy Project, is a snapshot of immigration laws enacted between January 1 and June 30, 2010. 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 began its legislative session in May. Legislative proposals included in this overview address legal immigrants, migrant and seasonal workers, refugees or unauthorized immigrants. Terms used in this report by and large reflect the terms used in state legislation.

This NCSL 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 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.