Pew Research Center: States Passing More Immigration Bills (Again)

If you’ve been following the twists and turns of the immigration debate in recent years, you’ve surely noticed the massive wave of state-level immigration bills that crested in 2011, and, for a time, seemed to be receding for good. These included Arizona’s infamous S.B. 1070 – known for its “show-me-your-papers” provision, among other things – and a raft of copycat measures that followed in other statehouses across the nation’s southern flank.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, Stateline, the daily news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts, notes that several state legislatures are floating a new round of measures to deal with immigration issues on a more local level. [See Lawmakers Return to Immigration Work, by Daniel C. Vock, Stateline / Pew Charitable Trusts, 12.Sep.2013.] Citing a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures, Stateline points to an emerging trend: “The number of immigration-related measures signed into law increased 28 percent in the first six months of this year, compared to the same time last year…”

What’s different this time around is that many states – not all – are actually reducing restrictions on immigrants, Pew’s Stateline says, at least in part because the Supreme Court struck down a substantial portion of Arizona’s sweeping anti-immigrant law, S.B. 1070, leaving less room for anti-immigrant forces to maneuver at the state level. [See U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Portions of AZ Immigration Law, MurthyDotCom, 29.Jun.2012.] Stateline cites an increase in the number of states that now permit unauthorized immigrants to drive – up from 3 states, earlier this year, to 10 – and various bills that will ease restrictions on immigrants seeking professional, hunting and gun licenses.

Though opponents can – and will – debate the wisdom of these new policies, licensing measures fall squarely within the purview of state legislatures, and are a proper exercise of their power. What we don’t need is another round of harsh anti-immigrant measures like the ones that dominated the news in 2011. States that passed such measures, like Arizona and Georgia, learned the hard way that this punitive legislation was more trouble than it was worth, trailing a wake of bad publicity, public rancor, lost business, and labor shortages – especially in the agricultural sector. Who wants to go through that again? Hopefully no one, but anti-immigrant sentiment still runs high in some quarters, high enough to tempt some state legislatures to have another crack at it.

Memo to Congress: don’t say you haven’t been warned. If you don’t pass immigration reform this year, you may find a few states taking matters into their own hands – again!

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