In Absence Of Federal Action, States Passed Hundreds Of Immigration Laws And Resolutions In 2013

CREDIT: ThinkProgress/ Esther Lee

immigration activists fast for reform

CREDIT: ThinkProgress/ Esther Lee

One year after Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced the “Immigration Reform that Works for America’s Future Act” bill in the Senate, which helped set the reform debate in motion in 2013, Congress still has yet to pass sweeping legislation that deals with the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants. But during the same time period, states enacted 467 new laws and resolutions, with many of the most prominent expanding privileges to immigrants, according to a new report released on Tuesday by the National Conference of State Legislatures. In a shift from previous years, the types of sweeping anti-immigration laws that criminalized ordinary activities, like driving children to school, “largely disappeared,” the report found.

Forty-five states enacted 184 laws and 253 resolutions related to immigration in between January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2013, a 64 percent jump from the 267 laws and resolutions put into law in 2012. Eight states extended drivers’ license eligibility to undocumented immigrants. Similar licensing legislation passed in the District of Columbia is pending review by Congress. Four states expanded in-state tuition for undocumented students. Other laws, like those in California, Colorado, Illinois, Florida, New Jersey, Nevada, and Texas passed resolutions calling for congressional action to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

Texas was the “largest contributor” in adopting 96 resolutions — more than seven dozen resolutions honor immigrant contributions, while other resolutions include collecting statistical data on human trafficking routes and mandating that Texas State Guard personnel be “lawfully admitted.” On the whole though, sweeping anti-immigration laws are mostly gone. Georgia amended E-Verify requirements, while Arkansas amended its Medicaid eligibility verification system requirements.

Immigration policy has always been a federal issue. But with Congressional action stalled in the House last year, states had to fill in the gap left by Congress to deal with its undocumented residents. In the meantime, House Republicans are planning on coalescing around an immigration plan in a document of “principles.” The latest glimmer of hope came from the third-ranked House Majority Whip Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) who, on Tuesday night, reiterated his support for granting legal status and work authorization to some undocumented immigrants in the soon-to-be released immigration “principles” document.