States Introduce Record Number Of Immigration Bills

Nearly 1,600 immigration bills have been introduced in state legislatures so far this year — an all-time record. That's according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The bipartisan group says states are scrambling for solutions to a problem the federal government hasn't successfully addressed.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel. It's been a busy year for immigration legislation in the states. Alabama, Georgia, Indiana and South Carolina have all passed tough and controversial laws, and nearly 1,600 measures have been introduced in state Capitols to address illegal immigration.

That is a record, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. As NPR's Alex Kellogg explains, state lawmakers say they're taking action now because Washington is not.

ALEX KELLOGG: For the first time ever, every state in the union has talked about or passed some sort of immigration bill this year. In many places - take Georgia - the measures have been very controversial.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE CHANTING)

KELLOGG: Georgia passed a law that would allow police to inquire about the immigration status of many suspects, and to punish people who transport illegal immigrants, in certain instances. And that brought protest to the state Capitol this summer.

Around the country, lawmakers cite one big reason for the flurry of activity.

Texas State Senator LETICIA VAN DE PUTTE: I think every single state legislator will tell you that our federal government has had dismal, abject, total dysfunctionality and failure.

KELLOGG: That's Texas State Senator Leticia Van de Putte. She's a Democrat, and the founder of the National Conference of State Legislatures' immigration task force.

VAN DE PUTTE: The rhetoric, unfortunately, in our nation's capital is about who wins, who loses in the next election.

KELLOGG: So states are pushing through all kinds of measures. Alabama, South Carolina and Indiana have all passed strict immigration laws. Like Georgia, they've taken their cue from Arizona and - perhaps not surprisingly - the laws of all four states have been challenged in court.

Many of the bills share common threads. A big theme is requiring that citizens have another form of ID in hand when they receive a driver's license. Other bills deal with whether or not employers should be allowed to hire illegal immigrants.

Gabriel Sanchez is a professor of political science at the University of New Mexico.

GABRIEL SANCHEZ: I mean, a lot of these bills, if you take a close look at them, they're framed in economic terms. And at least the way that they are sold to the public is, this is cost saving measures, right? It's going to save the state money, either in the short or the long term. And that's very popular right now.

KELLOGG: And it's lawmakers from both parties who are pushing the issue. In Indiana, for example, the Republican-run legislature passed a law in May that ensures in-state college students must prove they are U.S. citizens in order to pay in-state tuition rates.

But laws passed in Maryland and Connecticut this year, which are Democratically controlled, do just the opposite. They make it possible, if you follow certain guidelines, to receive in-state tuition even if you're undocumented.

Alex Kellogg, NPR News, Washington.

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