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Nature of Immigration Debate Changes


July 22, 2009


Education, health care legislation tops list of bills in states

PHILADELPHIA -- While national attention on immigration has declined, state legislatures are deliberating record levels of immigrant-related legislation. In the first half of 2009, state legislation related to immigration topped last year’s totals, according to a new report from the National Conference of State Legislatures that was released today at the group’s Legislative Summit in Philadelphia. 

So far this year, more than 1,400 bills have been considered in all 50 states. Of those, at least 144 laws and 115 resolutions have been enacted in 44 states, with bills sent to governors in two additional states.  This compares to 118 laws and 57 resolutions for the first half of 2008.

The top areas of interest are identification/driver’s license with 33 laws enacted, followed by health, with 22 laws enacted and education 14 law enacted.  Comparatively, in the first half of 2008, the top three areas were identification/driver's licenses (30), employment (18) and education (12). 

“It might not make the national headlines that it once did, but immigration and immigrant issues remain a top concern in states,” said Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos of Washington state and co-chair of the NCSL Task Force on Immigration and the States. “As the White House and Congress discuss comprehensive federal immigration reform, states continue to address both integration as well as enforcement measures in their legislature.”

Outpacing enforcement issues, states have adopted a slew of  resolutions that urge Congress to act on immigration reform at the federal level. Twice as many resolutions were enacted this year, compared to last.  Most focus on celebrating America’s ethnic heritage and individuals or programs serving refugees and immigrants.

More than 1,400 bills were considered in all 50 states in the first half of this year, compared to 1,267 bills considered in 45 states last year. A total of 285 bills and resolutions has passed legislatures; 23 of these bills are pending Governor’s approval and three bills were vetoed. No bills have been enacted in Alaska, Massachusetts, Michigan or Ohio. The official count is 144 laws and 115 resolutions for a total of 259 enacted as of June 30. 

State laws related to immigration have increased dramatically in recent years. 

  • In 2005, 300 bills were introduced; 38 laws were enacted and 6 vetoed.
  • In 2006, activity doubled: 570 bills were introduced; 84 laws were enacted; and 6 vetoed.
  • In 2007, activity tripled: 1,562 bills were introduced; 240 laws were enacted; and 12 vetoed.
  • In 2008, 1305 bills were considered; 206 were enacted; 3 were vetoed.

This report provides brief summaries of state laws enacted in the first half of 2009 that address legal immigrants, migrant and seasonal workers, refugees or unauthorized immigrants. Terms used in this report by and large reflect the terms used in state legislation.
For more information or to schedule an interview regarding this report, please contact the


NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.

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