MINNEAPOLIS — With Congress at a standstill on immigration issues, states have pursued their own solutions, with some offering in-state tuition and financial aid to unauthorized students and others approving more spending to enforce immigration laws.
“While Congress cannot seem to take action on immigration issues, states remain engaged in debating and solving immigration challenges, whether we are discussing services or enforcement,” Virginia state Sen. John Watkins, a Republican and co-chair of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ immigration task force, said in releasing an immigration report during NCSL’s annual meeting last week.
States have enacted 132 immigration-related laws this year, according to the report. The number is down only slightly from last year, even though some states, including immigration hot spot Texas, held no legislative session this year. Seven states approved resolutions calling on Congress or the White House to act on a immigration issues such as deportation policy and a general overhaul of federal laws.
In many cases, the laws enacted in the states continued a trend of opening the door to recent immigrants, authorized and unauthorized, to be more engaged in civic life and the community. The measures include employment and labor regulations, education policies and health care access.
Among the notable examples: Florida and Tennessee joined 15 other states that offer in-state tuition by law for unauthorized immigrants. Four states offer it through their higher education systems’ boards of regents. Washington state went further this year, joining California, New Mexico and Texas in offering financial aid to unauthorized students.
Florida also made it possible for unauthorized immigrants to be members of the state bar association.
In New York and Oregon, lawmakers approved measures to expand health care access to immigrants, including those who are unauthorized and in general excluded from federal safety-net programs like Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor.
New York’s measure aims to make medical assistance available to those who might be otherwise ineligible because of their immigration status under federal law. Oregon will study creating a basic health plan that could serve legal resident immigrants who are excluded from other programs.
California continued to be a leader in pushing for more immigrant-friendly laws. Lawmakers approved a measure that would bar employers from pursuing punitive immigration enforcement actions against their workers for any reason.
Other states went in the opposite direction. Missouri, for example, approved a law blocking any in-state tuition benefit for unauthorized immigrants. Six other states have also moved to block in-state tuition for those immigrants.
Arizona lawmakers approved a change to make it a felony to assume someone else’s identity to be declared eligible to work. In South Carolina, notaries public must now read and write English and be registered to vote.
Utah repealed a law that urged its Commission on Immigration and Migration to coordinate with local, state and federal officials to help integrate immigrants into the state.
Despite the state activity, few of the measures approved in 2014 generated the sort of controversy that engulfed states such as Arizona and Alabama in recent years. According to the NCSL report, no states moved to offer driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants this year — 11 states and the District of Columbia already offer them — a step that has ignited opposition in some states. There were no broad-based immigration omnibus measures passed in the states this year either, according to the report.United States government - Texas - Arizona - United States Congress - District of Columbia - Deval Patrick - Rick Perry - Dave Heineman - Terry Branstad