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Cities and States Shift From Enforcement to Integration of Immigrants

In 2006 and 2007, numerous cities and towns across the U.S. such as Hazleton, PA; Farmers Branch, TX; San Bernadino, CA; Valley Park, MO, and Riverside, NJ passed local immigrant enforcement ordinances which prohibited landlords from renting to unauthorized immigrants.  Many of the cities were sued by civil rights groups for being discriminatory and unconstitutional. This mired these cities for years in expensive litigation that cost them millions of dollars.  Several federal Circuit Courts declared these ordinances unconstitutional.1

In March of 2014, the United States Supreme Court  declined to review two federal appellate decisions that struck down the local immigration enforcement ordinances in Hazleton, PA and Farmers Branch, TX. With its refusal to take up the cases, the Supreme Court brought to a close immigration litigation that lasted more than seven years, and thus established limitation on the role states and cities can play in the enforcement of immigration laws.1

Before 2012, many states passed legislation making it difficult for unauthorized immigrants to survive. Arizona’s S.B. 1070, and similar laws in Alabama and Georgia, criminalized unauthorized status and authorized state police to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the United States without proper documentation. However, the Supreme Court struck down large portions of S.B. 1070 in 2012.

Since 2012, the emphasis of many state and local immigration laws has shifted from enforcement to the integration of unauthorized populations.  S
tates and cities have passed many laws that increase the integration of unauthorized populations, including the extension of in-state college tuition and the provision of driver’s licenses and ID cards.2 The implementation of DACA, which permits many young unauthorized immigrants to work and gives them a reprieve from deportation, has encouraged states and cities to integrate unauthorized populations. DACA recipients can now receive driver’s licenses in every state and in-state tuition is allowed by 16 states and 4 universities.3



1.  Chisti, Muzaffar and Bergeron, Claire.  "Hazleton Immigration Ordinance That Began With a Bang Goes Out With a Whimper."  Migration Policy Institute, Policy Beat, March 28, 2014.

2.  Morse, Ann.  National Conference of State Legislatures.  2013 Immigration Report, January 20, 2014.

3.  Report on 2017 State Immigration Laws, January - June.  National Conference of State Legislatures, 7/12/2017.



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In June 2012, Think Again MN launched a history series that examines politics and policy-making in Minnesota during the last century from the immediate post World War II years up through the 1990s. That era witnessed fierce legislative battles at the State Capitol but it was also a time of shared values that cut across partisan lines. 

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