Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Will state immigration crackdowns lose steam, or change form?

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In a report out last week, the National Council of La Raza counted 31 of 36 state legislatures either voting down or otherwise not advancing anti-illegal immigration bills à la SB 1070 last year. The report attributed this largely to the problems faced by Arizona in the wake of the 2010 law's partial enactment, among them an economic boycott and a lengthy, costly court battle headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Critics of the report made a valid point: Not all bills introduced in statehouses each year are voted on, let alone passed. And the number of bills introduced in the nation's statehouses continues to rise, not fall. But it's a complicated and evolving process. While there were many more state anti-illegal immigration bills introduced in 2011 vs. 2010, their rate of enactment did drop, according to a report released in December by the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks these measures.

Last year, U.S. state legislators introduced 1,607 bills and resolutions regarding immigrants and refugees, including in Puerto Rico. It was the third straight year of increases since 2008 in the number of immigration bills introduced. But measured by how many bills had become law as of Dec. 7, there was an 11 percent decrease from the year before in how many were enacted. Since 2009, in fact, the number making it into the law books has declined. From the report:

The report doesn't attempt to explain the decline, but it points out some of the legal challenges that states enacting enforcement-based immigration laws have run into this year:

Court challenges based on preemption and civil rights have been filed against all five of these new state laws. Alabama’s HB 56, Georgia’s HB 87, Indiana’s SB 590 and Utah’s HB 497 have been enjoined; the challenge to South Carolina’s SB 20 was filed October 31, 2011.  The U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion for injunction of Alabama's law on August 1; on South Carolina's law on October 31; and Utah's law on November 22.

It also points out what some pro-restriction legislators have embraced as a new tack in light of the challenges to enforcement-based laws: Employment-based anti-illegal immigration laws, similar to a 2007 Arizona law upheld by the Supreme Court which mandates businesses to check the work eligibility of new employees via E-Verify, a federal online status-check program.

A total of 12 states addressed employment last year via E-Verify measures, according to NCSL; by now, 17 states require public and/or private employers to use E-Verify.

As state legislators continue looking for ways to crack down, it's been anticipated that these types of laws will become more popular, especially given the Arizona E-Verify ruling. It may become less a case of state-level immigration crackdowns winding down as shifting in form.

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