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State-level immigration bills hit record number in 2011, report says

WASHINGTON – The number of immigration bills proposed in state capitals reached a record 1,592 this year, but the number actually signed into law fell by one–fourth, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The conference’s report, which included both pro-immigrant bills like the DREAM Act and anti–immigrant proposals, said the rising number of such bills continued a trend that began in 2005.

But it also said the 162 bills that made it into law this year was the lowest percentage of bill approvals in that period.

Experts say the spike in bill introductions may have been inspired by Arizona, which has been at the forefront of state immigration laws, but that the drop in enactments might also be attributed to Arizona and the backlash it has faced.

“Some legislators still want to claim credit by sponsoring such bills,” said Rodolfo Espino, a political science professor at Arizona State University. “But party (or) committee leaders may not spend time tying up the legislative calendar by pushing forward on legislation that could get shot down by the courts.”

A federal court blocked certain parts of Arizona’s omnibus immigration law, SB1070, the high–profile law that requires local police check the immigration status of suspects, among other controversial features.

The injunction has been appealed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to the Supreme Court.

“Seeing that price tag has had an impact,” said Laura Vazquez, an immigration analyst for the National Council of La Raza. The Hispanic civil–rights organization has been keeping track of Arizona–style immigration laws across the country.

Espino added that until states get clarity from the Supreme Court on how and if it is constitutional to enforce immigration at the state level, the number of proposals might keep rising, but enactments might keep dropping.

Arizona lawmakers also say the November recall election mounted against Senate President Russell Pearce, R–Mesa, could chill more Arizona–style immigration proposals. Pearce has been spearheading a movement against illegal immigration by proposing strict immigration–enforcement bills since 2001.

“If they are successful in beating President Pearce in the recall it will (have an effect) and if they aren’t successful it won’t,” said Arizona Sen. Ron Gould, R–Lake Havasu City, who has sponsored immigration-enforcement bills in the past.

The NCSL report said the number of immigration bills in state capitals rose steadily from 300 in 2005 to 1,592 this year, which was an increase of 13.7 percent from 2010. Those bills were introduced in 40 states and Puerto Rico.

Audrey Singer, who specializes in immigration and demography for the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution, said the wave of state immigration proposals started when Congress failed to pass an immigration–reform bill in 2005.

“That prompted a lot of state and local elected officials to take matters into their own hands … and as the frustration built up, more and more state and local areas took action,” Singer said.

Ann Morse, who prepared the NCSL study, agreed that state lawmakers expressed their frustration for “Congress not getting their act together,” on immigration reform. They expressed that frustration through the increasing number of immigration bills, she said.

The laws enacted have been a mixture of pro–immigrant and anti–immigrant legislation. For example, some states have passed a state version of the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition, while other states have required prove of citizenship or legal residency in order to obtain a driver’s license.

But bill approvals fell from 208 in 2010 to 162 in the first half of this year, a 22 percent drop. Analysts said they expect few approvals in the rest of this year, since most legislatures only meet in the spring.

In Arizona, there were 12 immigration–enforcement laws enacted, two resolutions adopted and one bill vetoed in the first half of 2011. The vetoed bill would have required presidential candidates to show their long–form birth certificate in order to establish U.S. citizenship before they could be listed on the state ballot.

Borders Within Borders

Top 10 states for immigration laws enacted in 2011, through of June 30:

• Utah 15
• Virginia 14
• Arizona 12
• Washington 11
• Texas 10
• Indiana 6
• Oklahoma 5
• North Dakota 5
• Nebraska 5
• Montana 5

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