States Enacted 116 Immigration Laws in 2018

It's a slight decline from last year but still more than usual.
by | October 5, 2018
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown holds up a ceremonial copy of an immigration-related bill in May. (AP/Tom Tait)

States are continuing to take significant action on immigration as President Donald Trump makes it his signature issue at the federal level, according to a new report by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

“Typically, more federal action means less at the state level,” says Ann Morse, director of NCSL’s immigrant policy project. But, she says, that hasn't been the case.

The Trump administration made several major immigration decisions this year, including briefly implementating a "zero tolerance" policy for separating immigrant families at the border, proposing a rule that would make it harder for legal immigrants to get green cards if they have used government benefits and capping the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States next year.

Meanwhile, NCSL reports that lawmakers in 43 states enacted 116 laws and 175 resolutions on the subject this year.

Many of the resolutions, according to Morse, ask for federal assistance on immigration issues -- a reminder that this subject is fundamentally in need of national solutions.

“Only the federal government can solve immigration,” she says, “and states want to be partners in helping create that solution.”

Three big areas related to state immigration policy this year were refugees, education and cooperation with federal enforcement.

Two states -- California and Tennessee -- enacted some form of sanctuary policy to protect immigrants from deportation.

"California prohibited law enforcement agencies from contracting with the federal government to house individuals as federal detainees for purposes of civil immigration custody. Tennessee barred state or local government entities or officials from adopting or enacting sanctuary policies," the report reads.

Iowa, meanwhile, went the other direction and started requiring state law enforcement officers to comply with federal requests to detain immigrants.

On refugees, Morse says she’s surprised states didn’t take more action. There was a sharp decline in bills introduced on the subject -- 21, compared to 65 last year. Still, the report details several noteworthy developments:

“Colorado stated that any foreign national admitted to the United States as a refugee or with special immigrant status who has settled in Colorado is eligible for in-state tuition, and Massachusetts ordered a study of areas in which there is a need for cultural and integration services for refugees. Several states, including California, Florida, Hawaii and New Mexico, introduced resolutions in support of refugees or child migrants at the southern border and urged Congress to take supportive action. Vermont and Washington enacted laws that focus on integrating refugee populations into the workforce by removing barriers for professional licensure and by increasing access to English education.”

On education, several states incorporated parts of the federal naturalization exam into high school testing requirements. With the addition of Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, 17 states now make passing a civics test a condition of graduation.

The number of immigration-related bills and resolutions enacted this year represents a 13 percent decline from the same period last year, when every state but three enacted an immigration law.

Graham Vyse | Staff Writer