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Unprecedented number of state immigration bills introduced in 2011

State legislators introduced 1,592 immigration-related bills and resolutions in the first half of 2011, according to a new report from the National Conference of State Legislatures, an increase of 16 percent over the number of immigration bills introduced in the first half of 2010. State legislatures have enacted 151 new immigration-related laws this year.

Five bills — passed in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah — were omnibus laws inspired by Arizona’s 2010 immigration law. These laws share common qualities like a requirement that law enforcement check the legal status of people detained for traffic violations, as well as mandatory implementation by employers of the E-Verify system, which aims to verify worker identification. In addition to the states with Arizona-style omnibus laws, five other states passed bills requiring E-Verify.

Not all bills were enforcement-only measures, however. In addition to its Arizona-style legislation, Utah enacted legislation which would create a temporary guestworker program allowing undocumented immigrants to legally work in the state, a policy innovation which GOP state lawmakers disagree on and which the federal government has said it finds objectionable.

Two states, Connecticut and Maryland, passed bills allowing undocumented immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition. A total of twelve states have passed similar legislation in the past decade.

The number of state-level immigration bills introduced yearly has risen since 2005, and the range of issues covered by the bills has also expanded. The year 2007 holds the record for most immigration-related bills introduced in a single year. If past trends continue, 2011 looks to break that record.

Despite the increasing interest from state legislatures in immigration issues, undocumented immigration to the United States has substantially decreased in the past two years. Experts credit the stagnated U.S. labor market, improved economic conditions in Mexico (and other developing countries) and more effective border security for the decline in undocumented immigration.

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