NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 26, 2006

Immigration policy is one of the hottest issues as 37 legislatures convene this month. Last year, states considered 300 immigration laws and approved 40. That number is expected to rise this year, says Ann Morse, an analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The immigration proposals are part of a larger trend of states getting involved in traditionally federal issues ranging from pollution control to prescription drug prices. Congress is considering changes to immigration policies -- a border fence, a guest worker program -- but it's uncertain whether action will be taken this year.

Among the state proposals:

  • Arizona is debating installing a radar system and video cameras along the state's 340-mile border with Mexico. The proposed $50 million system would alert law enforcement when crossings occur.
  • About a dozen states are considering employer sanctions, Morse says. Kentucky's proposal, for example, would fine employers up to $5,000 for knowingly hiring undocumented workers.
  • Border states and a few others are ready to spend their own money on immigration enforcement. State and local police would be asked to check the residency status of people arrested or given traffic tickets under some proposals.

Away from the Mexican border, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants to create a team of 10 state agents to police undocumented immigrants, charging them with state crimes such as identity theft or turning them over to federal authorities. "The federal government hasn't been doing a good job, so states have to play a role," says Pawlenty.

The legislative activity reflects real concern about the failure of Congress to pass real immigration reform. However, the job is best left to the federal government, and states will face a costly task if police get involved in determining people's immigration status, say some observers.

Source: Dennis Cauchon, "States weigh immigration controls," USA Today, January 26, 2006.

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