State lawmakers are stepping up their efforts to deal with illegal immigration, already submitting double the number of bills proposed in all of last year and enacting 57 new statutes in 18 states, according to a new report.
The National Conference of State Legislatures released a survey Thursday (April 19) showing that 1,169 immigration bills - from all 50 state capitols - have been introduced so far, compared to 570 in all of last year. Most legislatures are still in session.
The flurry of activity comes as state officials grow increasingly frustrated by the failure of Congress and the Bush administration to enact broad reforms to address problems created by the 11 million illegal immigrants living in this country.
"States can only do so much. It's like we're trying to scale a 12-foot wall with a step stool. The federal government must fix and fund the problem - now," Texas state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D), the president of NCSL, said in a statement.
Among the new laws, Wyoming made it a crime to use false citizenship documents. Arkansas prohibited state agencies from doing business with companies that employ illegal immigrants. Maryland launched a program to encourage immigrants to learn English and become U.S. citizens.
Not all the new laws are designed to punish illegal immigrants. Oregon clarified that only registered lawyers can act as immigration consultants.
More than half the states have taken up measures seeking to crack down on human trafficking, a crime in which immigrants are often the victims. But the most popular topics for immigration bills involve employment and benefits, such as health care and welfare, according to NCSL.
Legislators in 41 states put forward 199 measures dealing with immigration in the workplace. Meanwhile, 149 bills in 39 states deal with benefits. The proposals range from requiring more documentation to prove citizenship to expanding health benefits to children who are illegal immigrants.
Last year, a backlash against illegal immigration even in some states far from the Mexican border and dozens of high-profile marches put illegal immigration on the front burner in many state capitols. A record 78 immigration laws were enacted in 33 states.
In Washington, D.C., Bush has been unable to persuade Congress to adopt a broader package of immigration reforms, including a proposal to allow immigrants here illegally earn citizenship through an 11-year process.
But last fall he signed a bill authorizing the construction of a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexican border to curb illegal border crossings. In May, he started deploying 6,000 National Guard troops to the southern border to supplement the Border Patrol. He also approved a law beefing up requirements for Medicaid recipients to prove their citizenship.
Even though apprehensions of illegal immigrants on the Mexican border are down this year, state leaders are impatient.
"Congress has no option. ... As difficult as it is, as politically no-win as it may seem to some, this is in fact what we send them to Washington to do," Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D), chair of the National Governors Association, said during the group's winter meeting in February.
- Peter Schroeder contributed research to this article.