At least 30 states have passed laws or taken other steps this year to crack down on illegal immigrants, often making it harder for undocumented workers to find jobs or receive public services.
Acting while Congress struggles to set policy regarding the nation’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, states have enacted at least 57 laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures and a USA TODAY analysis. Among major themes of the state legislation: fining businesses that hire undocumented workers and denying such companies public contracts if they don’t verify the legal status of employees.
• A Colorado law enacted in June prohibits awarding state contracts to businesses that knowingly employ illegal immigrants.
• A Louisiana law approved in June subjects businesses that have state contracts and more than 10 employees to fines if they don’t fire workers known to be undocumented.
• A Georgia bill enacted in April has a phased-in requirement that public employers and government contractors and subcontractors verify information on newly hired workers through a federal program.
“State and local politicians and the grass-roots in those states are up in arms over Washington’s conspicuous lack of leadership,” says John Keeley, spokesman for the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors tighter controls on immigration. “Immigration . . . is a driving factor for the three biggest budget items states face: education, health care and criminal justice.”
Under federal law, states must provide some services to illegal immigrants, including public education and emergency medical care. States do not have to provide commercial licenses, food assistance, health care, unemployment benefits or other services.
States’ focus on workers’ documentation is unfair, says Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a civil rights group. “It feels like we’re back to the days when it’s OK to discriminate against minorities,” he says.