Trump spurs wave of state immigration laws

Trump spurs wave of state immigration laws

State legislatures across the country have enacted a wave of immigration-related measures in the seven months since President Trump took office.

With Washington paralyzed on broader immigration reforms, lawmakers have taken matters into their own hands, implementing new measures either encouraging support for immigrants or cracking down on those who enter the country illegally.

“You’re seeing legislation that comes up because the feds haven’t fixed the issue, so states are trying to find ways around that,” said Mo Denis, a Democratic state senator from Nevada. 


Lawmakers in 42 states and the District of Columbia passed a total of 133 new measures this year governing some part of their state’s relationship with immigrants, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Immigrant Policy Project. 

That’s almost twice as many measures as legislatures passed in 2016.

Thirty-six states have considered laws related to sanctuary cities, those localities that refuse to comply with federal requests that undocumented immigrants be held for deportation. 

Four states — Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi and Texas — have enacted bans against sanctuary jurisdictions. The Georgia law applies only to state universities and colleges, while the Indiana, Mississippi and Texas laws prohibit cities within their borders from refusing federal detainer requests. 

The number of states with such laws is likely to grow in the coming years, especially as the federal Justice Department attempts to withhold grant money from cities or counties that refuse federal detainer requests. 

Maryland went the other direction: The state legislature allocated money that would make up for any federal grants lost over a jurisdiction’s refusal to comply with detainer requests. 


California legislators are considering a measure that would in effect make the entire state a sanctuary for undocumented immigrations. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” he wanted to see some changes to the measure, sponsored by state Senate President Kevin de Leon (D), before it reaches his desk. 

“The states that were committed to sanctuary policies and non-cooperation in immigration enforcement kind of doubled down,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which backs strict enforcement policies. “States certainly do not have the authority to undermine federal immigration enforcement. The law says they may assist in federal immigration enforcement.” 

Trump’s move to crack down on refugees in the United States has also drawn a response from state legislatures. 

Several states have changed the way they handle refugees being resettled within their borders. Colorado legislators added new money for a resettlement program, and South Dakota legislators repealed a state law that gave the Department of Social Services the ability to work with federal officials to resettle refugees.  

Four other states — California, Illinois, Nebraska and New Jersey — passed resolutions supportive of refugees or opposing Trump’s efforts to block resettlement of refugees from Muslim-majority nations. 

Once refugees are in the United States, states cannot take steps to block them from traveling to or resettling in their jurisdictions.

The debate over immigration has spilled into education policy as well.

Washington, D.C., joined 16 states in offering in-state tuition to its residents, regardless of their immigration status. Missouri lawmakers went the other way, banning funds to public institutions that offer discounts to those in the country illegally.  

Six states took steps to make sure their graduating high school seniors can pass the same civics test given to immigrants as they apply for citizenship. Those states — Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada and West Virginia — will recommend or require students to pass the Citizenship and Naturalization Service exam before graduating from high school.

Observers say the rush of new immigration legislation has been spurred by Trump’s election.

Trump kicked off his campaign pledging to build a wall on the southern border with Mexico. And while construction on the wall has not begun, a number of elected officials took Trump’s pledge to heart, either by pushing their own enforcement measures or by taking steps to push back against the administration.

“All the rhetoric that was out there and what people were saying, I think there were people who ran for office saying they were going to do this, and they’ve been emboldened by the administration,” Denis said. “Where you see that the most is right after the election.”