The federal government is in charge of passing immigration legislation and the 113th Congress is on it. Sort of. The Senate debated and passed one immigration reform bill. The House debated and passed five border-security bills and aims to vote on a thus far amorphous, contentious bill in October. Maybe. But in the same six month period, a large number of state legislatures didn’t wait for Congress to act on immigration legislation. No way. Instead, many states introduced hundreds of immigration-related bills and resolutions that aim to fill the gap left by Congress.
A new study by the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Immigration Policy Project on Wednesday found that 43 states and the District of Columbia enacted 146 laws and 231 resolutions relating to undocumented and legal immigrants, migrants, and refugees. Texas was the largest adopter of immigration-related resolutions, bringing 96 resolutions to its Republican-controlled state legislature. Driver’s licenses and identification card resolutions comprised 23 percent of all enacted laws on immigration. The Colorado state legislature allowed undocumented individuals to qualify for a driver’s license. But not all of the 20 states sought to integrate undocumented immigrants through license legislation. The Indiana state legislature required that individuals include their social security number of applications for a license, permit, or identification card. Not all undocumented immigrants qualify for a social security number.
Whereas Republican-controlled legislatures were more inclined to pass enforcement legislation and extend benefits to legal immigrants as in Indiana and Utah, Democrat-controlled legislatures in states like Colorado and Oregon were more inclined to pass integration legislation that extends benefits to undocumented immigrants.
In some states, harsh legislation passed that require individuals to prove their legal status or risk losing their jobs. This year, Alabama physicians and physician assistants were required to prove that they are U.S. citizens or legal residents to retain their license to practice. Other states like Colorado sought to repeal a law that would require local officials to participate in federal immigration detention.
Furthermore, the Republican-controlled state legislature in Indiana and Utah require state colleges to verify the immigration status of all admitted and enrolled students and to deny scholarships, grants, and fellowships to those who do not have lawful status. But Colorado and Oregon, with state legislatures that are Democrat-controlled, allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates.
The rise in the number of resolutions and laws passed in state legislatures is due in part to the August 2012 presidential initiative, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants temporary work authorization and a deportation stay for young undocumented immigrants. In response to the DACA program, Colorado, Minnesota, and Oregon granted in-state tuition benefits to undocumented immigrant students.
Twenty-five resolutions that passed this year called for congressional action on a range of immigration issues. Eight of those resolutions were related to passing comprehensive immigration reform. Immigration policy has always been a federal issue, and the U.S. Supreme Court reiterated federal supremacy when it struck down several key provisions in Arizona’s immigration law. But in the absence of a reform bill that remains stalled in the House, states will have to keep doing what they can to deal with the 11 million undocumented individuals already living in the country.