The federal government maintains primary authority over immigrants’ admission into and removal from the United States as a matter of law. Historically, the states have been largely responsible for the practical aspects of absorbing and integrating immigrants into their communities. But the relationship between the federal government and the states has evolved over time, becoming more of a partnership, and the states are playing a more active role in creating policies. These developments have led to new areas of cooperation and conflict between the levels of government.
This dynamic coincides with changes over the past three decades in the size and distribution of the nation’s foreign-born population. For years, immigrants were largely concentrated in a few states, but today, significant numbers live in all 50 states. These maps illustrate the growth of the foreign-born population in the states from 1980 to 2010, and the text provides a snapshot of key immigration-related activities at the federal and state levels.
This is not a comprehensive analysis of immigration laws, policies, and other factors that have shaped the relationship between the federal government and the states. The Pew Charitable Trusts is not drawing any conclusions about causal relationships between these developments. This is intended only to provide historical context for today’s discussions on immigration and the states.