Immigration and the States



For several years, state legislators have adopted a variety of approaches to fill gaps in federal responsibility for immigration policy and delays in immigration reforms.

States have adopted different approaches when grappling with legal and illegal immigration. Some measures focus on immigration enforcement, such as cooperating with federal agencies on border enforcement, worksite enforcement, or human trafficking. Other measures seek to increase the integration of immigrants into the nation’s social, economic and civic life, such as English language classes, civic education, and naturalization assistance. In these interviews, state lawmakers describe their state's perspectives on immigration, and an immigration lawyer describes recent court challenges to state laws.

NCSL Resources


In April, 2010, Arizona made national news with its enactment of SB1070, which added new state penalties related to immigration enforcement. Representative John Kavanagh explains that lawmakers were frustrated with federal inaction and the increasing crime, drug smuggling and human smuggling. 




Utah is trying a compromise on immigration that could end up being a model for other policymakers, or yet another law tangled up in court. Utah Senator Curtis Bramble talks about why Utah is taking an approach that addresses both enforcement and the need for workers.


Senator Mee Moua explains that Minnesota has  unique issues as a northern border state and needs to design local solutions, within the framework of a federal immigration system. Immigration is a workforce issue: Each state has a unique need for workers , whether in agriculture or manufacturing or high tech, and it’s what drives the states to respond.

Immigration Law

Immigration lawyer Kathleen Walker discusses the difference between civil and criminal immigration enforcement and reviews pending federal cases reviewing preemption and state authority in immigration policy. Federal immigration is a complex, dysfunctional system that has helped generate the responses from states. States are having to lead in the vacuum of federal inaction.