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First Quarter 2011, Record 1538 State Bills Relating to Immigrants Introduced

First Quarter 2011, Record 1538 State Bills Relating to Immigrants Introduced

Photo: NCSL Immigrant Policy Project, 2011.

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Today’s contribution is from The National Conference of State Legislatures . NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the nation’s 50 states, its commonwealths and territories.  NCSL provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues.

State legislatures continue to grapple with immigration issues at an unprecedented rate. In the first quarter of 2011, state legislators in the 50 states and Puerto Rico introduced 1,538 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants and refugees. This number surpasses the first quarter of 2010, when 1,180 bills were introduced.

As in past years, employment, identification/driver’s licenses and law enforcement remain top areas of interest for immigrant-related bill introductions. With passage of federal health care reform, however, health also emerged as a top contender. This quarter, the number of health-related bills was more than double those introduced during the same quarter last year. Following last year’s example of Arizona’s SB 1070, omnibus bill introductions also increased in 2011.

As of March 31, 2011, 26 states enacted 63 laws and adopted 78 resolutions, totaling 141 measures. As of March 31, one additional bill was vetoed in New Jersey. Among enacted laws, the top areas of interest were health, identification/driver’s licenses, law enforcement and resolutions. During the first quarter of 2010, 34 states had enacted 71 laws and adopted 87 resolutions, for a total of 156. An additional 37 bills were awaiting governors’ signatures.

Health: Most states are requiring that participants in state health benefit exchanges be U.S. citizens or lawfully present immigrants.

Identification/driver’s licenses: States continue to restrict nonresidents’ eligibility for driver’s, commercial and trade licenses.

Law enforcement: Virginia established a criminal information exchange program with willing states that share a border with Canada or Mexico in order to share information about drugs, gangs, unlawful presence and terrorism.

Resolutions: Utah authorized studies to be conducted related to the tax impact of immigration legislation and state employees’ sharing immigration-related information within and across state agencies and with employers.

This spring, Utah’s package of immigration-related laws gained significant attention. HB 116, HB 466 and HB 497 were signed by the governor on March 15, 2011. The omnibus HB 116 addresses employment, identification and verification, human trafficking and law enforcement. It establishes a temporary guest worker program and seeks federal waivers to implement the program by July 1, 2013, or within 120 days of receiving a federal waiver. HB 467 addresses enforcement, REAL ID and public benefits, and HB 466 establishes a Utah Commission on Immigration and Migration to help facilitate integration of immigrants in Utah. More information on Utah’s laws can be found here.

This report provides a first look at introduced 2011 legislation and presents selected examples of enacted laws and adopted resolutions. The NCSL report scheduled for release in August will summarize in detail all enacted legislation from January through June, including Georgia’s omnibus legislation (HB 87) and Maryland’s DREAM act (SB 167).

Legislative proposals included in this overview address legal immigrants, refugees, migrant and seasonal workers or unauthorized immigrants. Terms used in this report by and large reflect the terms used in state legislation. In some state legislative language, unauthorized immigrants also are described as illegal or undocumented immigrants or aliens.


There were 171 bills were introduced in 40 state legislatures: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

These bills generally restrict the types of documents that can be used to obtain a driver’s license, create time limits for driver’s licenses for legal permanent residents, require proof of citizenship for handgun licenses, restrict t implementation of the REAL ID act, and require citizenship to obtain licenses for work in certain trades such as heating-ventilating-air conditioning or locksmith. Some bills require citizenship for fishing and hunting licenses, licenses for social workers and professional counselors, business licenses and marriage certificates. Other bills with a wider scope restrict the types of identification that can be used to obtain any state-issued license and specify the allowable uses of information gathered in providing state-issued licenses.

Virginia HB 1651 (enacted March 23): This law requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to cancel any license, permit or special identification card it has issued to an individual if it is notified by a federal government agency that the individual is neither a citizen of nor legally present in the United States.

Fifty-one bills were introduced in 30 state legislatures: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

These omnibus bills include several topics in one bill, such as immigration law enforcement, employment verification, and verification of lawful status for public benefits. Two omnibus bills were enacted in Utah (HB 116 and HB 497) that seek to balance immigration enforcement with facilitating a legal immigrant workforce. Many omnibus immigration bills introduced in 2011 contain law enforcement provisions similar to Arizona’s SB 1070, such as requiring officers to verify immigration status during a lawful stop, requiring immigrants to carry alien registration documents, and adding state penalties for harboring, transporting and/or smuggling illegal immigrants. Other omnibus bills follow examples set in previous years, addressing verification of legal status for public benefits and driver’s licenses, use of E-Verify by public or private employers, and immigration law enforcement provisions such as authorizing agreements with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Two bills introduced in Massachusetts, SB 1560 and SB 1603, require studies to be completed on the cost of implementing each bill.

Utah HB 116 (signed March 15):The omnibus HB 116 addresses employment, identification and verification, human trafficking and law enforcement. It establishes a temporary guest worker program for unauthorized immigrants and seeks federal waivers to implement the program by July 1, 2013, or within 120 days of receiving a federal waiver, whichever is sooner. Those eligible for a guest worker permit must be older than age 18 or have parent or guardian permission; have worked or lived in Utah before May 10, 2011; provide regularly updated contact information; provide proof of work within 30 days of permit issuance; agree to a criminal background check, and not have been convicted of or pled guilty to a serious felony; provide evidence that the individual would not be inadmissible based on public health grounds; have health insurance; and hold a driving privilege card. Application for the two-year permit requires paying a fine of $1,000 if the undocumented individual entered legally but is not currently in compliance with the Immigration and Nationality Act or $2,500 if the undocumented individual entered illegally. Permit holders must make good faith efforts to become proficient in English.

Utah HB 497 (signed March 15):The omnibus HB 497 addresses law enforcement, REAL ID and public benefits. The law requires that an officer verify the immigration status of anyone arrested for a felony or a Class A misdemeanor and anyone booked for class B or C misdemeanors. It clarifies when passengers in a vehicle where the operator has been detained also may be questioned and their immigration status verified. It requires verification of immigration status regarding application for public services or benefits provided by a state or local government agency or subcontractor, except as exempted by federal law. This bill does not implement or authorize the federal REAL ID Act to any extent not currently provided by state law.