Immigration still a top issue for many state legislatures

Although immigration reform has been absent from above the fold on most major newspapers in recent weeks, related items have crept into the public consciousness. News of gun and drug trafficking along the southwest border has been a major focus of national papers of late. Driver’s licenses in Michigan, Maryland, Oregon and Missouri have also been a hot topic in those areas, and just today, Canadians voiced disdain for a suggestion that their border security is more lax than it should be. So although comprehensive reform is not particularly popular, immigration policy is. A new report compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures confirms these trends with a snapshot of immigration issues facing state legislatures across the country.

According to the new report by the NCSL, state legislatures continue to debate immigration on a range of policies, from benefits and education, to law enforcement and employment. Over 1,000 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants, refugees, migrants and seasonal workers were introduced around the country in the first quarter of 2009. This number continues the dramatic upward trend of legislation aimed at immigration over the last four years.

“This is the first up-to-date look at state activity to address immigrants in their community so far this year,” said Ann Morse, director of the Immigrant Policy Project at NCSL.

In 2005, for example, 38 laws were enacted from 300 bills introduced at the state level of government. And in 2008, 1,305 bills were introduced at the state level, and 206 laws were enacted. Despite the increase in frequency of immigration legislation being introduced, the amount of new laws enacted has stayed between 12.5 and 15.5 percent annually.

According to the report, the top three issues remained the same from last year: employment, identification/drivers licenses and law enforcement. “In a time of strained budgets, states are putting greater scrutiny on eligibility for public benefits for citizens and immigrants alike,” said William T. Pound, NCSL executive director, in a statement.

The NCSL are hopeful that early indications by the Obama administration will lead to comprehensive immigration reform, Ms. Morse said. And “NCSL hopes to play a key role in any policy discussion on this issue.”

For a copy of the report, click here.

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