State leaders are pressing President Bush and the newly elected Democratic Congress to pass comprehensive federal immigration reform. But they've also signaled they will not wait for the federal government to take action on illegal immigration.
A record 78 immigration-control laws were enacted in 33 states last year out of 550 immigration bills filed, according
to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In addition, the backlash against the influx of illegal workers landed the issue on two state ballots and in numerous state campaigns in November. Signs point to more action at the state level against illegal immigration this year.
In Texas, whose Legislature didn't meet last year, lawmakers prepared dozens of immigration-related bills for the 2007 session that would restrict illegal aliens' access to education, health care and employment. Some of the bills go further than other states' proposals and raise legal issues by targeting the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants, including seeking to make them ineligible for state employment when they become adults. Texas has the second-largest immigrant population in the nation, behind California.
In Missouri, where several immigration-control measures failed last year, lawmakers are expected to consider new proposals to establish English as the state's official language, bar children of illegal immigrants from getting in-state college tuition, and alter state tax codes to go after off-the-books workers who don't pay income taxes.
After adopting some of the most far-reaching anti-immigration measures last year, including cuts in state services for illegal aliens and penalties for employers who hire them, Georgia lawmakers pre-filed bills last fall again targeting illegal immigrants. One measure would make property owned by an illegal immigrant ineligible for any state tax exemption.
Georgia, Colorado and Arizona passed the most stringent measures against illegal immigrants last year. Colorado was
first to enact strict identity requirements that demand proof of legal residency for all state services.
Arizona lawmakers put on the ballot and voters approved a series of measures declaring English the state's official language and barring illegal immigrants from receiving state aid, collecting punitive damages in civil suits or making bail if arrested for serious crimes. Colorado voters also passed ballot measures prohibiting employers from deducting wages of illegal immigrants as an expense on state tax forms and directing the state attorney general to sue the federal government to enforce existing immigration laws.
Immigration also is roiling local governments. Dozens of cities and towns are debating whether to follow the example of Hazleton, Pa., which in July 2006 adopted an English only ordinance and harsh penalties for those who employ or rent to illegal aliens. Courts have blocked Hazleton and several other towns from enforcing such ordinances pending rulings on their constitutionality.
By contrast, Nebraska became the 10th state to grant in-state tuition at public colleges to illegal immigrants, if they graduated from state high schools.