The trend was sparked by a dramatic uptick in illegal immigration in the decade before 2006. Roughly half of all unauthorized immigrants now in the country – some 6 million in all – came to the United States during that period.
The response from state legislatures built rapidly. In 2006, they passed twice as many immigration laws as they had a year earlier. By 2008, they passed five times the 2005 number – a level that has stayed steady since. Last year, state legislators introduced about 1,400 immigration-related bills, more than 200 of which became laws.
The majority of these laws have been neutral on illegal immigration. But some of the most noteworthy have taken a tough stance, and more of the same is expected this year:
•About a dozen states are now considering bills like Arizona's SB 1070, which requires police officers to check a person's immigration status during routine stops.
•On March 16, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed four immigration bills, which would, among other things, allow undocumented immigrants to work in the state and allow police to check the immigration status of people arrested for serious crimes. The bills were seen as an attempt to find a middle ground in the immigration debate.
•The Virginia legislature is considering an effort to ban unauthorized immigrants from enrolling in public universities.
•A Florida bill would require anyone employed in the state be run though E-Verify, a federal citizenship and immigration registry. Currently, all federal employees and contractors must be run through E-Verify, but applying this to all workers in a state would be a first.