States Continue to Try to Legislate Immigration

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has recently released an analysis of the number of immigration-related proposals introduced at the state level between January and June of 2011. NCSL found that more immigration-related bills (1,592) were introduced in the first half of 2011 than in the same time period in 2010 (1,374). While the bills represent both punitive and progressive proposals, in their totality, these initiatives are telling of the pursuit of 50 states trying their hand at fixing the broken immigration system while Congress sits back and watches.

This trend in state immigration legislation is likely to continue, as is the legal and economic fallout resulting from the introduction of extreme anti-immigrant legislation. For instance, in five of the six states that passed Arizona-style SB 1070 legislation, immigrant and civil rights groups have filed lawsuits contesting the laws. The U.S. Department of Justice has also responded with lawsuits in Arizona and Alabama in an attempt to defend the federal government’s authority to regulate immigration. It is worth noting that even though five states joined Arizona in passing SB1070 copycats, 16 states defeated it. NCSL’s discussion of immigration-related legislation also extends beyond SB1070 copycats, nothing that “as in previous years, law enforcement, identification/driver’s licenses and employment remained the top issues addressed in state legislation related to immigrants.” And yet, although more state-level immigration legislation was introduced this year than last, fewer proposals were actually passed into law. The NCSL reported that in 2010, 207 laws were enacted and 138 resolutions adopted; while, as of June 30, 2011, 150 laws were enacted and 95 resolutions adopted.

This means that as a direct result of Congress’ inaction, states governments are grappling with hundreds of pieces of legislation with the hopes of bringing some sense of order to immigration. Even though state governments are not empowered to do this by law, it also may be unrealistic for them to be expected to remain disengaged on such a pressing issue. However, it is absolutely incomprehensible that as one arm of the federal government sues Arizona and Alabama to preserve its authority over immigration, another arm, Congress, refuses to exercise their authority to pass comprehensive legislation. It’s time Congress took the pressure off of states and did its job by creating a workable immigrations system that serves the needs of our state and nation altogether.

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