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States Step Up As Washington Stalls On Immigration

Maybe it's understandable that immigration reform remains stalled in Congress during an election year. And that the fate of President Obama's executive actions on immigration before the U.S. Supreme Court remains unclear, especially in the aftermath of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

But lawmakers in virtually every state in the union aren't waiting for Washington. The number of states taking action by passing immigration-related laws is growing — by 26 percent last year, according to a new study released Tuesday by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Last year, 216 immigration laws were enacted as opposed to 171 laws in 2014. Texas and California led the pack. In all, 49 states and Puerto Rico enacted new laws and resolutions on immigration. Alaska was the only state that did not act.

The new laws cover health, education, employment and licensing issues.

In some cases, the laws expand rights for immigrants, legal or otherwise. For example, California allows health care for all children regardless of their immigration status. In other instances, some states impose more restrictive measures, such as Idaho, where an applicant for a driver's license must provide proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residency.

Here are some other examples contained in the report:

Education

An Oregon law allows students in the country without valid visas to apply for state-funded financial aid programs.

A West Virginia law establishes that only U.S. citizens are eligible for teacher's certificates. However, an allowance is permitted to a person who is an exchange teacher from a foreign country.

Employment

— In North Carolina, a new law requires all state government contractors to use E-Verify, the federal government's online system for checking whether prospective employees are authorized to work in the U.S. It also prohibits cities and counties from adopting sanctuary ordinances that would limit enforcement of federal immigration laws.

Law Enforcement

— Illinois passed a law requiring that when foreign nationals are arrested or detained, they must be advised of their right to have their consular officials notified.

— Texas now requires the attorney general to establish a transnational and organized crime division to address border security and organized crime, including prosecuting trafficking in persons and assisting victims of trafficking.

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