The number of new state laws related to immigration has more than doubled in the first six months of 2007 compared with the same period last year, and some experts are attributing the activism in state capitals to a lack of action in Washington.
In a report issued today, the National Conference of State Legislatures said that 171 immigration bills were enacted in the states from Jan. 1 to June 30, compared with 84 such measures in the first six months of 2006. Because some state legislatures are still in session, the report says, the number could grow.
“In the continued absence of a comprehensive federal reform of the United States’ challenged immigration system, states have displayed an unprecedented level of activity and have developed a variety of their own approaches and solutions,” the report says.
Some states, such as Arizona, have passed laws placing new bans on hiring illegal immigrants. Others, such as Texas, have passed measures to protect immigrants against human trafficking.
Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said such efforts to control immigration were understandable, but would probably not be effective. That opinion is shared by both proponents and opponents of an overhaul of federal immigration laws.
“The battle is definitely shifting to the state and local level,” she said. “The public doesn’t like the illegality, and local politicians sense that. Because the federal government did not do something, that impulse is even stronger.
Sheri Steisel, an immigration specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the report showed that immigration measures were no longer restricted to border states.
“This is now a 50-state issue,” she said. “There is a tremendous amount of frustration at the local level now that the federal government has abrogated its responsibility.”
The new legislation covers a variety of issues, including employment, education and healthcare, she said.
Oklahoma enacted measures to restrict employment.
Oregon passed a law barring nonlawyers from providing immigration counseling services.
In California, a recently approved measure extends benefits—including housing and income support—to immigrant workers.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors restrictions on immigration, said the states were being forced to act because the added costs of services for illegal immigrants fell on them, yet the federal government collected most of the taxes from illegal workers.
“There is a natural inclination for the states to try to protect themselves,” he said.
Krikorian, like others following the immigration debate, said that the measures at the state, county and city levels went in both directions: Some tightened or reinforced federal restrictions, whereas others provided benefits and protection to the immigrant population.
“But my sense is that the trend right now is toward more restrictions,” Krikorian said.