WASHINGTON – State legislatures passed 20 percent fewer immigration laws in the first half of this year than at the same time last year, according to a new report by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Lawmakers in 41 states enacted 114 bills and 92 resolutions that dealt with immigration between Jan. 1 and June 30 this year, compared with 257 such laws enacted during the same time period last year, according to the report released on Monday.
States delayed immigration legislation in part as they waited for the Supreme Court to rule on the states’ authority to enforce immigration laws, said John Watkins, a Republican state senator in Virginia who co-chairs the conference’s Task Force on Immigration and the States.
Last June, the Supreme Court upheld a provision from Arizona’s immigration law that allows police to check the immigration status of those they stop for other reasons. Yet, the justices struck down provisions that created state crimes allowing local police to arrest people for federal immigration violations.
Watkins said that the Supreme Court ruling provided “a yellow light, in that states can move forward in some areas, but not in others.”
States’ legislative agendas also had other priorities, including finding solutions to budget gaps.
Washington State representative Sharon Tomiko Santos, a Democrat, said it is now imperative for Congress or the next president to act on the issue.
“The can has been kicked down the road for too long, and states have suffered as a result,” said Tomiko Santos, who co-chairs the task force with Watkins. “Come January, action at the federal level needs to happen.”
Of all the laws enacted on immigration, 18 percent focused on law enforcement and 11 percent on identification and driver’s licenses.
Six states – Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire and West Virginia – enacted laws that dealt with the E-Verify program, which requires businesses to check the legal status of their employees, according to the report.