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Fewer Immigrant Laws Passed as State Enforcement Is Challenged

State lawmakers introduced more immigrant-related measures this year than ever before but succeeded in passing far fewer into law, according to a report released today by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

More than 1,600 bills were considered in all 50 states and Puerto Rico in 2011, up from 1,400 bills introduced in 46 states last year. Still, the number of new laws enacted, 197, was the lowest since 2006.

Lawsuits by immigration advocates and the federal government against local enforcement efforts may have had a chilling effect, said Ann Morse, a program director who wrote the report for the Washington-based non-profit organization.

“The trend is trying to figure out where does the state role lie in enforcement,” Morse said in a telephone interview. “When you are cutting law enforcement, you can’t afford to be wasting money in an area where you might not have authority.”

The U.S. Supreme Court said yesterday it would review a 2010 Arizona law that requires local police to check immigration status if they have “reasonable suspicion” someone is in the country illegally. A federal appeals court upheld an injunction blocking key parts of that law from taking effect in April.

The Arizona law was the model for about 50 measures in 2011, Morse said. Five states adopted versions and all five of those laws are also tied up in court.

Health Care, College

State immigration proposals deal with a range of topics, from access to health care to attendance at state colleges. New laws in Connecticut and Maryland make undocumented immigrants eligible for in-state tuition, bringing to 12 the number that developed conditions such as state high school graduation to allow tuition breaks for those not in the country legally. Those measures were introduced even as the Dream Act, which would create a path to citizenship for young immigrants who finish high school and join the military or attend college, has failed repeatedly in Congress.

Virginia state Senator John Watkins, a Republican who is co-chairman of the NCSL Task Force on Immigration and the States, said local efforts to address the issues won’t go away.

“As long as we fail to have a federal solution, state legislatures will continue the policy debate and develop local responses, whether it’s verification and authentication or combating human trafficking,” Watkins said in a statement. “We need a national solution to relieve the pressure on states.”

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