If you need any proof of how divided America is on immigration, look at its state capitols.
State lawmakers have taken widely divergent approaches to dealing with an influx of immigrants, including 11 million thought to be here illegally. Some states are rolling out welcome mats while others are slamming shut their doors.
For example, Oklahoma lawmakers signed off on a sweeping anti-illegal immigration law in 2007, responding to the 56,000 foreign-born residents who have come to the Sooner State since 2000 for jobs in meat-packing, construction and service industries. The new measure, which took effect Nov. 1, punishes employers who hire undocumented workers, gives police more tools to start deporting them and denies them state identification and benefits.
“Illegal aliens will not come to Oklahoma if there are no jobs. They will not stay if they don’t have welfare benefits. They will not want to come if they know they can be detained until they are deported,” said state Rep. Randy Terrill (R), the Oklahoma law’s chief proponent.
Meanwhile in Illinois, where 1.7 million of its 12.8 million residents were born abroad, state lawmakers repeatedly have sided with immigrants, especially the children. The state offers immigrant children subsidized health care and in-state tuition at public colleges. Last spring, lawmakers in Springfield invited a showdown with the federal government by barring companies from checking the immigration status of new workers with a federal database.
The two examples highlight a rough divide in how states have responded to the wave of newcomers that began swelling in the 1970s: States with large, long-established immigrant populations have been more accommodating than states now experiencing a surge for the first time.
Read the full report With Feds Stuck, States Tackle Immigration on Stateline.org's Web site.