States' Illegal Immigration Bills Stall

March 28, 2012
Republican state legislators are struggling to pass laws this year that would give local police more powers to crack down on illegal immigrants.

Republican state legislators are struggling to pass laws this year that would give local police more powers to crack down on illegal immigrants.

After Arizona passed its landmark illegal immigration bill in 2010, legislators in Utah, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Indiana followed and passed similar laws last year.

Portions of all those laws have been blocked by federal courts and will face costly legal challenges, which could ultimately be decided when the Supreme Court reviews Arizona's law next month. Republican lawmakers say the threat of those lawsuits, some led by the Department of Justice, is one reason legislative leaders have put the brakes on immigration bills, or abandoned them altogether, as they wait to see how this election year plays out.

"Legislators are much better informed on the issue. I think that legislators have been watching what's happening on the national level. The probability of that happening in Virginia is de minimus," said Virginia state Majority Leader Tommy Norment, the only Republican who voted against a state immigration law when it died in a Senate committee last month.

Missouri state Republican Sen. Will Kraus' immigration enforcement bill passed a state Senate committee in January, but Senate leaders have not moved it to the floor.

In Kansas, leaders of the House and Senate have both said they don't see any immigration enforcement bills advancing this year.

Mississippi lawmakers are poised to pass an immigration bill this year, but it has been watered down to the point that it no longer includes the core aspects of the Arizona law.

As the Mississippi bill has made its way through the House, lawmakers have cut the portion allowing law enforcement to perform roadside immigration checks. They have also removed contentious parts that would require school officials to check the immigration status of students enrolling in schools, and would make it a state crime not to carry identification papers -- provisions that have been blocked by federal judges in other states.

The shift has been striking to Suman Raghunathan, given the wave of anti-illegal-immigration bills passed in the past two years.

"I think the pendulum has stopped a little closer to the middle this year," said Raghunathan, policy director of the Progressive States Network, which opposes state immigration enforcement laws.

The change has been jarring for some Republican legislators.

Tennessee state Rep. Joe Carr, a Republican who has authored several anti-illegal-immigration laws in recent years, is not optimistic that his bill granting police the ability to check the immigration status of suspects during routine traffic stops will pass the GOP-controlled Legislature this year. He said legislators in Tennessee and other states have grown wary of Department of Justice-led lawsuits, and they're hoping November's presidential election will change that tone.

"We think we're going to have a much more friendly atmosphere in the federal government in a few months, so there's no reason to participate in an overly expensive endeavor," Carr said.

Copyright 2012 Gannett Company, Inc.All Rights Reserved

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