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RELEASE: New CAP Report Examines Changes in State and Local Immigration Laws

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Contact: Crystal Patterson
Phone: 202.478.6350

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress released a new analysis that looks at the evolution of immigration laws in states around the country. The report examines the significant role that states and localities play in regulating the lives of immigrant residents.

In the past decade, state and local governments have produced a flurry of legislation related to immigrants and immigration. Much of the legislation between 2004 and 2012 was restrictive in nature, making it more difficult for immigrants to reside in communities, work, and live their daily lives. In the past few years, the tide has largely turned, and a growing number of states are passing more-welcoming laws aimed at integrating immigrant residents and mitigating some of the harsh consequences of immigration enforcement. These laws have taken a range of forms, from providing driver’s licenses and in-state tuition to limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Importantly, states and localities are enacting these welcoming laws even as Congress has failed to pass immigration reform.

Conventional wisdom on the rise of anti-immigrant state laws argues that the movement of immigrants into new places—such as Kansas, North Carolina, Georgia, and beyond—sparked fears of cultural and economic threats, concerns over crime, and local challenges such as overcrowded housing. Today’s report finds that these factors fail to explain why many states passed such harsh and restrictive laws. Changing demographics alone did not make the rise of anti-immigrant legislation inevitable, nor were they the main factor in the growth of these laws. CAP’s analysis identifies other causes, including local political considerations, national political polarization, and inaction at the federal level, as the forces behind anti-immigrant policies at the state level.

The report also identifies two major factors influencing the shift from these restrictive laws toward more pro-integration policies: The Supreme Court struck down much of Arizona’s S.B. 1070 in 2012, and the 2012 presidential election provided a turning point away from attrition-through-enforcement laws as a political strategy. Pro-immigrant integration laws also benefited from a broader coalition of supporters, states’ focus on serious criminals in their enforcement efforts, and executive action in the form of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

Read the report: Understanding Immigration Federalism in the United States by Karthick Ramakrishnan and Pratheepan Gulasekaram

To speak with an expert, contact Crystal Patterson at or 202.478.6350.

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