Counter-Trend in State Immigration Legislation?

Back in January, a small army of state politicos was intent on making Arizona’s S.B. 1070 the law of the land – one state at a time, if it came to that. As we have noted before, the ardor for this kind of legislation appears to have cooled to some extent, as legislators confront the unyielding budgetary tradeoffs that would be required if state authorities are to take on what has always been a federal responsibility.

At this point, it is difficult to predict how the immigration issue will play out in the statehouses across the country. Local conditions vary considerably, in the manner of Tip O’Neill’s famous admonition that “all politics are local.” Even if the tide hasn’t turned yet, there are signs of a countertrend in several states. As reports, the Arizona state legislature turned back several anti-immigrant measures last week, including birthright citizenship and immigration enforcement bills. (See Ariz. Rejects Immigration Crackdowns, by Andy Barr, According to

“Perhaps the most controversial of the bills would have required hospitals to check the citizenship status of patients and notify authorities if they suspected anyone under their care of being in the country illegally. Another reporting bill would have required public school districts to record how many children of illegal immigrants attend classes and provide that information to authorities. S.B. 1611, a measure written by state Senate President Russell Pearce that would have restricted illegal immigrants from attending state universities or collecting any federal benefits, also failed. That bill would have required students’ proof of citizenship or legal immigration status to attend public schools. It also would have made it a crime for illegal immigrants to drive in Arizona.”

This comes at the same time when other states are making headway with their own versions of the DREAM Act, to allow in-state tuition for illegal immigrants who were brought here as children. The Maryland State Senate passed just such a measure last week – modified slightly, to provide in-state tuition at community colleges only, and thereafter at state universities for qualified undocumented immigrants who graduate with an associate’s degree. (See Maryland Senate Approves In-State Tuition Bill, by Ann E. Marimow, The Washington Post, 05.Mar.2011.)

Meanwhile, California DREAM Act is making headway in the state Assembly, having passed a critical committee vote last week in the Committee on Higher Education. (See State Committee Passes a New Version of DREAM Act, by Courtney Moulds, The Daily Californian, 17.Mar.2011.) As the Daily Californian notes, the legislation would “expand institutional and state financial aid to undocumented students in California.” Governor Jerry Brown has pledged his support, should the measure reach his desk – in a marked change from the position taken by his predecessor, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who vetoed similar legislation three times, the Daily Californian reports. A similar measure is pending in the Connecticut state legislature, where the new governor is likewise expected to sign it, should it clear the legislature. (See Immigration Reform Bill Hits Connecticut, The State Column, 20.Mar.2011.)

This does not necessarily mean that the tide has shifted, but it does indicate that state-level immigration enforcement measures are not the only story out there. That said, this still is no substitute for a uniform federal approach to the regulation of immigration. This is a federal task, and ought to be handled as such. Unfortunately, Congress has no progress to report on the comprehensive immigration reform we so desperately need. One can only hope that the patchwork of new state immigrant measures will finally force their hand.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.