2012 Immigration-Related Laws and Resolutions in the States (Jan. 1–Dec. 31, 2012)

Immigration Report


While state legislatures seemed to hit the pause button on immigration in 2012, it was still a hot topic, with nearly 1,000 bill introductions and 156 laws enacted. State lawmakers pointed to other issues pushing immigration to the back burner, notably budget deficits, redistricting and pending litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court on Arizona’s immigration enforcement law. 

In May 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Arizona v. United States  that three of four contested provisions were preempted. The provision requiring law enforcement to determine immigration status during a lawful stop was upheld. See NCSL’s brief for more information. 

Two states—Montana and Maryland— considered immigration-related ballot measures. In Montana, legislative referendum LR-121 requires any individual requesting a state service to provide proof of citizenship before receiving services. The ballot measure passed but is being challenged in court. Maryland’s 2011 in-state tuition law was placed on the ballot in 2012 and approved. 

In June, 2012,the administration issued new policy on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to allow young unauthorized immigrants to remain in the country temporarily. They can also apply for work authorization.  Deferred action is permitted for a period of two years and can be renewed. California enacted legislation in 2012 to allow deferred action recipients to receive driver’s licenses.

Report Highlights

After a steady climb in immigration-related bills starting in 2005, the number of bills and resolutions declined significantly in statehouses in 2012. State legislators introduced 983 bills and resolutions in 46 state legislatures, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, a decline of 39 percent compared to the 1,607 bills introduced in 2011. 

However, the decline in the number of enacted laws and resolutions was less marked. In 2012, 44 states and Puerto Rico enacted 156 laws and adopted 111 resolutions for a total of 267. This is down from 306 laws and resolutions in 2011, a decline of 13 percent.  Twelve additional bills passed in six different state legislatures; 11 were vetoed by governors and one was pending at the close of 2012 and signed into law Jan. 7, 2013. 

Four state legislatures did not meet in 2012: Montana, North Dakota, Nevada and Texas. In Idaho and Wyoming, immigration legislation was proposed but failed.  Texas, a biennial legislature, introduced 159 bills and enacted 10 laws and 28 resolutions in 2011.  

Budgets comprised one-fourth of all laws enacted, with states appropriating funds for programs such as English language acquisition, naturalization and refugee resettlement.

Law enforcement legislation accounted for 17 percent of the total, about the same as in 2011. 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 each comprised 9 percent of all enacted laws on immigration.  E-Verify was addressed in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and West Virginia.  Massachusetts prohibits registration of a motor vehicle or trailer unless the person holds a license, a specified identification card, social security number, or proof of legal presence.  Arizona allows a police officer to immobilize or impound a car that is being used to transport, harbor or conceal illegal aliens. Several states addressed foreign-born adoptions and child custody rights, including placement of a minor with a family member regardless of the caregiver’s immigration status. 

Education and health each accounted for 8 percent of the total. New Hampshire requires every student receiving in-state rate tuition to execute an affidavit of legal residence, starting in 2013. Nebraska restored prenatal care and pregnancy-related services for immigrant mothers through the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

Human trafficking laws comprised 6 percent of the total. South Carolina’s human trafficking law 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.

Omnibus legislation came to a standstill even before the Court’s decision in Arizona v. United States.  In 2011 more than 50 omnibus bills were introduced in 30 state legislatures. In  2012, only five states introduced new omnibus enforcement bills similar to Arizona’s law: Kansas (H2576), Mississippi (H488 and S2090), Missouri (S590), Rhode Island (H7313) and West Virginia (S64).  None of these bills were enacted.  The only state to act on an omnibus bill in 2012 was Alabama, which amended its 2011 law. 

States also adopted 111 resolutions. Many commend the contributions of immigrants, while 12 resolutions urge the U.S. Congress or the president to take action on immigration, trade, tourism and border security.

 Table 1. State Legislation Related to Immigrants, 2005-2012 

Year Introduced Passed Legislatures Vetoed/
Enacted Resolutions Total Laws & Resolutions
2005 300 45 6 39 0 39
2006 570 90 6 84 12 96
2007 1,562 252 12 240 50 290
2008 1,305 209 3 206 64 270
2009 1,500* 373 20 222 131 353
2010 1,400* 356 10 208 138 346
2011 1,607 318 15 197 109 306
2012 983 168 11(1)** 156 111 267

 * 2009-2010 estimates
**One bill was sent to the governor Dec. 27, 2012 and enacted in 2013.

 Summaries of all enacted laws and resolutions are available online sorted alphabetically by state and by category at: www.ncsl.org/programs/immig.  


This report summarizes laws and resolutions enacted between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2012.  Laws 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.  In some state legislation, the terms “illegal immigrant” or “undocumented immigrant” or “aliens” are also used synonymously for unauthorized immigrants.

Pie Chart

 Table 2. Laws and Resolutions on Immigration Passed by Legislatures from 2010-2012

  2010 2010 2011 2011 2012 2012
Main Sub-Topics Number of Laws Enacted Number of States Number of Laws Enacted (Vetoed) Number of States Number of Laws Enacted (Vetoed) (Pending) Number of States
Budgets 49 29 19 (2) 15 38 21
Education 17 11 20 (1) 11 13 (2) 11
Employment 27 20 27 (3) 18 14 (4) 13
Health 17 13 23 (2) 15 12 8
Human Trafficking 8 8 5 5 9 7
ID/Driver's Licenses and Other Licenses 26 21 27 18 14 12
Law Enforcement 37 19 39 (5) 20 26 (1) 16
Miscellaneous 20 15 12 (1) 9 10 (1) 9
Omnibus/Multi-Issue Measures 2 1 6 5 1 1
Public Benefits 9 8 15 (1) 11 16 (1) 9
Voting 6 3 4 4 3 (2) (1) 4
Total Enacted Laws 218 43 197 (15) 42 (& PR) 156 (12) 44 (&PR)
Resolutions 138 27 109 26 111 31
Total laws and resolutions passed/adopted by state legislatures 356 47 321 42 (& PR) 279 44 (& PR)
Vetoed by governors 10 2 15 8 12* 6
Total enacted laws and adopted resolutions 346   306   267  

*One pending bill in 2012 on voting was enacted in January 2013.

Sources: NCSL Immigrant Policy Project, December 2012.
The full report of state laws is available online by state and by category.  It is also available in a searchable database.  The brief summary below describes the categories and provides examples of laws enacted in 2012.

Budgets (38 enacted)

Lawmakers in 21 states enacted 38 budget laws: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

These laws typically appropriate funds for refugee services; migrant health, education and housing programs; law enforcement; English as a Second Language or naturalization services.

Example: Vermont H 781. This law states that the agency of human services will provide Medicare and CHIP assistance to legal immigrant children and pregnant women who have not met the 5-year waiting period but are legally living in Vermont.


Education (13 enacted; 2 vetoed)

Eleven states enacted 13 laws: California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia.  One law was vetoed in Florida and one in New Jersey.

These laws pertain to citizenship, immigration and residency requirements for educational institutions for employees or students. Some laws address enhanced learning for refugees, children of refugees, or limited English proficient students. 

Example: New Hampshire H 1383. This law requires every student admitted to the university system of New Hampshire after Dec. 31, 2012 and receiving in-state rate tuition to execute an affidavit declaring that he or she is a legal resident of the United States.

Maryland’s 2011 instate tuition law was placed on the ballot in November 2012 (Question 4).  Maryland voters approved the ballot measure 59 to 41 percent.   Twelve states currently have statutes that condition eligibility for in-state tuition on attendance and graduation from a state high school and acceptable college admission applications.  For more information, please see NCSL’s publication on in-state tuition and unauthorized immigrant students.


Employment (14 enacted; 4 vetoed)

Lawmakers in 13 states enacted 14 laws: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, Vermont and West Virginia.  California vetoed two bills, New Hampshire vetoed one and Minnesota vetoed one.

These laws address tax credits, social security numbers, unemployment insurance, and the use of the federal E-Verify program for public and/or private sector employees.  Five laws address E-Verify: Georgia, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. (Budget laws in Georgia, Michigan, South Carolina, and the omnibus law in Alabama also address E-Verify.)  For additional information on E-Verify legislation, please see NCSL’s publication.

Example: Massachusetts S 2342. This law provides that a person may be excluded from public contracts if convicted of violating federal law prohibiting the employment of unauthorized aliens. It also provides support for minority businesses.

Example:  New Hampshire H 158.  This law establishes a civil cause for action for those whose social security numbers have been used fraudulently. The Court is authorized to award damages of at least $10,000, plus attorney fees and costs incurred to correct the records of the aggrieved party. Employers who have verified the employees' work authorization using E-Verify have an affirmative defense to the call for action.

Example:  Pennsylvania S 637.  This law requires public works contractors and subcontractors to verify employment eligibility through the E-Verify Program. It also establishes good faith immunity to those who follow E-Verify Program procedures.


Health (12 enacted)

Eight states enacted 12 laws: Alaska, California, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Virginia.

These laws pertain to eligibility for health care benefits, health insurance, licensing of health care professionals, bilingual training, interpreters, minimum housing standards for migrant farm workers and health education programs targeting health disparities in low-income and vulnerable immigrant populations.

Example: Maryland H 641. This law provides plans for programs to raise awareness and treat Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C which infect many Americans. High risk populations include ethnic peoples including Asian and African immigrants.

Example: Nebraska L 599. This law declares that unborn children do not have immigration statuses and thus are eligible for prenatal care services.


Human Trafficking (9 enacted)

Seven states enacted nine laws: Florida, Maine, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia.

These laws change law enforcement and criminal justice responses to individuals and businesses involved in human trafficking, such as providing training for law enforcement officials and school staff, making it illegal to withhold travel documents to detain a victim, requiring certain businesses to post trafficking hotline information, redefining what constitutes a human  trafficking offense and addressing sentencing guidelines. Laws include both domestic and foreign victims of trafficking.

Example: Nebraska L1145. This law provides mandatory training to law enforcement officers, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and others regarding issues in human trafficking and methods used in identifying victims of human trafficking who are U.S. citizens and foreign nationals.

Example: South Carolina H3757. This law 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.


Identification, Driver’s License and Other License (14 enacted)

Lawmakers in 12 states enacted 14 laws: Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Vermont.

These laws relate to acceptable documentation and eligibility requirements for state IDs and driver’s licenses, professional licenses, and firearm and hunting/fishing licenses.

Example: California A2189. This law allows the DMV to issue a driver’s license to deferred action recipients who can provide evidence of their authorized presence in the United States, even if they are ineligible for a social security number.

Example: Massachusetts H4238. This law prohibits registration of a motor vehicle or trailer unless the person holds a license, identification card, social security number or proof of legal presence. The governor returned the bill with a recommendation of amendment.  The legislature overrode the veto.


Law Enforcement (26 enacted, 1 vetoed)

Twenty-six laws were enacted in 15 states and the District of Columbia: Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah and Virginia and the District of Columbia.  One law was vetoed in California.

These laws address a wide range of law enforcement areas, from firearm possession and domestic violence to drug manufacturing and trafficking. Laws in Arizona, Florida and Louisiana limit the use of restraints on female prisoners and detainees during labor and delivery. Four states—Kansas, Louisiana, Maine and Utah—enacted laws that specified permissible documents for registering and maintaining records on sex offenders, including travel and immigration documents. Iowa and Utah prohibit notary publics from acting as immigration consultants or lawyers. Arizona and Indiana prohibit vehicles being used to transport or conceal illegal aliens. California passed a law that allows custodial parents, regardless of immigration status, to make two additional phone calls.  The District of Columbia passed emergency  legislation to limit the circumstances in which the District will comply with an immigration detainer request from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Example: District of Columbia B797 and B897. These 90-day emergency laws limited the circumstances that the District of Columbia will comply with an immigration detainer request from  ICE and requires there to be a written agreement with the federal government stating they will reimburse the District for all costs incurred.  B897 expired on Jan. 7, 2013.

Example: Indiana S262. This law classifies knowingly transporting or harboring an illegal alien for commercial or private financial gain as a Class A misdemeanor, or a Class D felony for more than nine people. Law enforcement must impound a vehicle used to commit this violation unless certain exceptions apply.

Example: Iowa S2265. This law prohibits a notary public from acting as an immigration consultant or an expert on immigration matters or representing a person in a judicial or administrative proceeding relating to immigration to the United States, U.S. citizenship or related matters.

Example: Louisiana S256. This law prohibits the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners, including those detained under immigration law, during labor or delivery, except in particular circumstances.


Miscellaneous (10 enacted, 1 vetoed)

Eight states and Puerto Rico enacted 10 laws: Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  One law was vetoed in New Jersey.
This category typically includes immigration-related issues that do not fit in other categories and are addressed infrequently, such as housing assistance, tax issues and studies. This year, four of the 11 laws involve identification requirements for secondary metal recyclers, while laws in Arizona impose additional boating fees for nonresidents and restrict investments in Sudan and Iran within a public retirement portfolio.

Example: Arizona S 1115. This law requires that loans or investment contracts made by the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System do not involve investments in Sudan or Iran or otherwise provide support to terrorists or facilitate illegal immigration into the United States.


Omnibus (1 enacted)

One state enacted omnibus legislation: Alabama.

Alabama amended its 2011 omnibus law, H 56. Omnibus bills include multiple topics in one bill, such as immigration law enforcement, employment verification, education, human trafficking, and verification of lawful status for public benefits.

Alabama H 658.

Law Enforcement: H 658 eliminated the 2011 provision that allowed a citizen to bring legal action regarding immigration enforcement. Instead, a petition must be filed with the local district attorney or attorney general.

Business/ public records transactions: H 658 amends the 2011 provision that made it a felony for an alien not lawfully present to enter into business transactions with government. Business transaction is redefined as public records transaction and includes applying for or renewing a motor vehicle license plate, a driver's license or non-driver identification card, a business, commercial or professional license. It does not apply to a marriage license or housing.

Driver's license/IDs: Driver’s licenses or IDs shall distinguish between lawful permanent residents and temporary immigrants. A person arrested for driving without a license will not be convicted if he or she produces a valid license in court or the office of the arresting officer. For those arrested for driving without a license, officers must make a reasonable effort to determine citizenship or lawful permanent residents with the federal government as soon as possible, but not later than within 48 hours.

Employment/E-Verify: Contractors and subcontractors must participate in the E-Verify system; however, prime contractors are not liable for their subcontractor complying with E-Verify unless they know of the violation. A business entity is defined as employing one or more persons.  

Harboring/Transport/Rental Agreements: Deletes the provision defining harboring as a rental agreement with an illegal immigrant and reduces the number of aliens required to make harboring and transport a Class C felony from 10 to 5.

For more information, please see NCSL’s publication on omnibus laws.  


Public Benefits (16 enacted, 1 vetoed)

Lawmakers enacted 16 laws in nine states: Alabama, California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. One law was vetoed in California.
These laws address social service programs that affect all people covered by the programs—immigrants and non-immigrants alike—and laws that ensure benefits are granted only to eligible immigrants. Some laws mandate verification of immigration status before receiving benefits or place additional requirements or criteria on eligibility while others clarify eligibility and services for children in the foster care and adoption system, as well as those who have aged out. There were also several laws addressing foreign adoptions and services available to adoptive families.

Example: California S1064. This law permits a court to place a child in any dissolution, dependency or probate guardianship proceedings with a relative regardless of the relative's immigration status.

Example: New York S1064. This law amends current law to allow the use of IH-3 visas to validate adoptions of children from foreign countries.

Example: Florida H 99. This law establishes goals for the treatment of sexually exploited children and addresses the need for special care and services. These include: counseling, health care, victims compensation, substance abuse treatment, educational opportunities, and a safe environment secure from traffickers. These services are to be offered regardless of their citizenship, residency, alien, or immigrant status.


Voting (3 enacted, 3 vetoed)

Lawmakers in three states enacted three laws: Colorado, Kansas and New Hampshire.  Three laws were vetoed in Michigan.

These laws clarify documents valid to prove U.S. citizenship.

Example: Kansas S129. This law requires U.S. citizenship to vote and outlines documents valid to prove citizenship in order to register to vote.


Resolutions (111 adopted)

Thirty states and the District of Columbia adopted 111 resolutions: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

Many of these resolutions commend citizens, immigrants and immigrant-serving organizations for their contributions. Twelve resolutions urge the U.S. Congress or the president to take action, such as: allow states to administer their own H-2A guest worker programs; provide sufficient funds for the Coast Guard; support increases in border patrol to enforce immigration and drug laws and to facilitate trade; support participation of certain countries in the U.S. Department of State's Visa Waiver Program; support visa improvements for tourism and enforce all immigration laws. Some propose study committees on immigration topics.

Example: Georgia SR 715. This resolution urges Congress to allow states to administer their own H-2A guest worker programs through the monitoring of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Example: Indiana SR 9 urges the legislative council to establish a study committee to study the changes to Indiana law requiring undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition rates.

Example:  Illinois HR 1193 honors the valuable contributions of American Sikhs, South Asian Americans and Arab Americans, and recognizes the vulnerability that they face. The resolution calls for Illinois residents, including immigrants and migrants, to be more tolerant and to prevent future violence by promoting education about diverse cultures and religions. 

Example: Louisiana HCR 46 urges state agencies to utilize Louisiana French when translating information from English to French.

Example:  New Jersey SR 71 declares the New Jersey Senate’s support of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Arizona v. United States, while expressing disappointment for the upholding of the lawful stop position.  The Senate urges comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration laws to recognize the civil rights of all persons residing in the United States.

Example:  New Hampshire HCR 2 declared its full support for Arizona’s immigration law, SB1070.

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Prepared by:
Allison Johnston, Fall Fellow
Ann Morse, Program Director, Immigrant Policy Project, NCSL
Sheri Steisel, Federal Affairs Counsel, NCSL
Molly Ramsdell, Director, Washington Office, NCSL
Neal Osten, Director, Washington Office, NCSL
This report was made possible (in part) by a grant from the Four Freedoms Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of NCSL.
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures, January 2013
For more information, please refer to our website at: www.ncsl.org/programs/immig