NCSL tracks and reports on state laws and resolutions that address legal immigrants, migrant and seasonal workers, refugees and unauthorized immigrants. The report identifies and summarizes all laws and resolutions enacted, and highlights examples of new laws or trends. (Terms used in these reports by and large reflect the terms used in state legislation. In some state legislative language, unauthorized immigrants are also described as illegal or undocumented immigrants or aliens.)
Enacted legislation related to immigration decreased in 2020 by 30% to 127 laws, compared with 181 laws in 2019. The number of resolutions decreased by 41% to 79 from 135 in 2019. Many state legislatures took a break from the topic of immigration in 2020 as the pandemic and economic crises created new priorities for legislative action. States offered pandemic relief, including health care for immigrant seniors, tenant protections and extension of eligibility for public benefits. States also continued working on professional licenses for immigrants, regardless of immigration status.
Enacted legislation related to immigration increased in 2019 by 3% to 181 laws, compared with 175 laws in 2018. Trends included the 2020 census, offices or task forces on immigration, occupational licensing, driver’s licenses, and sanctuary policies/immigration enforcement.
In 2018, enacted legislation related to immigration decreased by 15 percent to 175 laws compared with 206 laws in 2017. Lawmakers in 44 states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico enacted 175 laws and 222 resolutions related to immigration, for a total of 397. Trends in 2018 included occupational licensing, sanctuary policies, refugees, and education/civics.
In 2017, enacted legislation related to immigration increased by 110 percent to 206 laws compared with 98 laws in 2016. Lawmakers in 49 states enacted 206 laws and 263 resolutions related to immigration, for a total of 469. Trends in 2017 included sanctuary policies, refugees, education/civics and instate tuition.
In 2016, enacted legislation related to immigration decreased by 55 percent to 98 compared with 216 laws in 2015. The number of resolutions dropped by 37 percent to 172 from 274. Lawmakers in 43 states enacted 98 laws and 172 resolutions related to immigration, for a total of 270. An additional 14 bills were vetoed by governors and two were pending signatures.
State lawmakers continued tackling immigration issues in a range of policy areas in 2015. Enacted legislation dealing with immigration increased by 26 percent in 2015, with 216 laws enacted compared to 171 laws in 2014. The number of resolutions rebounded to 274 in 2015 after last year’s plunge in activity to 117 resolutions.
In the first half of 2015, enacted legislation related to immigration increased by 16 percent to 153 compared with 132 laws in 2014. The number of resolutions bounced back to 238 after last year’s sharp decline to 84. Lawmakers in 46 states and Puerto Rico enacted 153 laws and 238 resolutions related to immigration, for a total of 391. An additional 10 bills were vetoed by governors and 20 are pending signatures. Four states did not enact immigration-related legislation in the first half of 2015: Alaska, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Ohio. The increase can be explained in part because every state was in regular session in 2015, unlike 2014 when five states were not in session.
Lawmakers in statehouses across the United States approved 171 immigration-related laws in 2014,representing a 7.5 percent decline since 2013, according to a new report issued by NCSL. Jan. 7, 2015. NCSL Press Release.
State immigration legislation in 2013 seemed to shift in response to new federal policy to defer deportation for young unauthorized immigrants and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on Arizona SB1070. Lawmakers in 45 states and the District of Columbia enacted 184 laws and 253 resolutions related to immigration, for a total of 437, an increase of 64 percent from the 267 laws and resolutions enacted in 2012. Jan. 21, 2013.
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. 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.
Audio: Immigration and the States
Since omnibus immigration enforcement laws were enacted in Arizona early in 2010 (and subsequently enjoined after a federal challenge), five additional states have enacted similar laws: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah in 2011. Lawsuits were filed in each state. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion for injunction of Alabama's law, HB56, on August 1; on South Carolina's immigration law, S.20, on October 31; and of Utah's HB497 on November 22. On Dec. 12, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review Arizona v. U.S. On Dec. 22, parts of South Carolina's law were enjoined.
SB 1070 and HB 2162, enacted in April 2010, relate to immigration law enforcement by adding state penalties for trespassing, harboring and transporting illegal immigrants, not carrying alien registration documents, employing illegal immigrants, and smuggling humans.
Previous Immigrant Policy Project Reports