States take new tack on immigration
In 2010, as Congress again failed to progress toward comprehensive immigration reform, states considered or passed a record number of immigration-related bills and resolutions, according to a new report from the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). That includes at least seven states that debated laws similar to one passed by Arizona last April that requires law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of suspects they believe are in the country illegally. But some immigration experts say that trend may be slowing.
Every state that met in regular session in 2010 considered laws related to legal and unauthorized immigrants, according to NCSL's report. Forty-six state legislatures and the District of Columbia enacted 208 laws and adopted 138 resolutions for a total of 346, while 10 additional bills were vetoed. During the same period in 2009, 44 states enacted 202 laws and adopted 131 resolutions for a total of 333, and 20 bills were vetoed.
The absence of federal immigration reform is driving the states' increased interest in passing their own laws, says Jonathan Blazer, policy attorney for the Los Angeles-based National Immigration Law Center. “There now is extreme doubt in all quarters as to whether Congress has the ability or the will in the short term to enact structural reforms to our federal immigration system,” Blazer says.
Employment, law enforcement and identification/driver's licenses were top issues addressed in state immigration legislation, but Arizona's immigration laws received the most attention. This year, South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah and Kentucky are considering similar laws, says Wendy Sefsaf, spokesperson for the Washington-based Immigration Policy Center.
However, the fact that a federal court in Arizona blocked key parts of that law in July seems to have reduced support for the copy-cat laws, says Vivek Malhotra, advocacy and policy counsel for the New York-based American Civil Liberties Union. “States considering such legislation know that this unconstitutional proposal is likely to embroil them in costly litigation,” he says.
The potential cost of litigation is one concern the Columbia, S.C.-based Municipal Association of South Carolina (MASC) has about the Arizona-style law under consideration there, says Warren Harley, MASC's governmental affairs liaison. “The language as it's written now allows residents to sue a city if they are not enforcing the law,” Harley says. “Even if our cities are out doing what they're supposed to do [to enforce the law], we envision being caught in the middle between pro- and anti-immigration groups, folks on two sides saying we're going too far or we're not going far enough.”