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Recent Immigration Developments from the States (Mar 2014)

Supreme Court Leaves Lower Court Decisions on Anti-Immigrant Housing Regulations Intact

On March 3, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals brought by the towns of Hazelton, Pennsylvania and Farmers Branch, Texas related to their anti-immigrant housing ordinances. As a result, the decisions of the 3rd and 5th Circuit Courts of Appeals, finding that the housing ordinances were unconstitutionally preempted by federal immigration law, remain intact. Both ordinances would have required prospective tenants to prove their lawful presence in the United States and obtain a rental license before being permitted to rent an apartment. At this time, the only discriminatory housing ordinance that has withstood legal challenge is the policy that will go into effect on April 10 in Fremont, Nebraska. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Fremont’s anti-immigrant rental ordinance last year and a majority of the town’s residents voted last month to keep the law. Fortunately, other localities across the country, including Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska, are choosing instead to embrace and integrate immigrants into their communities and economies through a number of welcoming initiatives.        


Legal Settlement Blocks Key Sections of South Carolina’s 2011 Anti-Immigrant Law

Following in the steps of Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia, South Carolina is the latest state to limit enforcement of its harsh anti-immigrant law. The state has agreed to a settlement in legal challenges to key provisions of SB 20 that sought to criminalize undocumented immigrants and drive them out of the state. Once the settlement with civil rights organizations and the U.S. Department of Justice is approved by the federal court, it will limit how the state can enforce the law’s controversial “show me your papers” provisions which permit local police to request immigration status documents from individuals stopped or detained for other lawful reasons.  The South Carolina Attorney General issued a formal opinion clarifying that law enforcement agents cannot continue to hold people to investigate their immigration status after the original reason for stopping or detaining them has been resolved. The pending settlement will also permanently block the section of the law that makes it a state misdemeanor to fail to carry immigration documents. Finally, the settlement will permanently enjoin the provisions making it a state felony to engage in such routine interactions with undocumented immigrants as driving them to church or renting them a room. Similar provisions criminalizing transporting and harboring have also been blocked in Alabama and Georgia. 


Tuition Equity Bill Advances in Florida Legislature While Financial Aid Bill Is Defeated in New York

On March 20, the Florida House voted to approve HB 851 that would permit undocumented residents to pay in-state tuition at state universities. All eyes now turn to the state Senate where the Judiciary Committee recently approved a similar proposal (SB 1400) that must eventually clear the Senate as a whole.  Reports indicate that Governor Scott would sign the tuition equity bill, if passed by the legislature. If Florida does enact this legislation, it would become the 20th state with a law or policy extending in-state tuition to undocumented residents.  Only four of these states (California, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington) also permit undocumented students to qualify for state financial aid. New York, which has offered in-state tuition to undocumented residents since 2002, was considering a bill enabling undocumented students to qualify for state financial aid, but the legislation was defeated by the state Senate on March 17.  Click here for CLINIC’s Talking Points on Why States Should Offer In-State Tuition to All Residents.


Massachusetts May Become Third State to Decline to Hold Individuals for ICE

Massachusetts’ SB 1135, an Act to restore community trust in Massachusetts law enforcement, passed out of the Joint Public Safety Committee on March 19. This legislation would limit the use of scarce state and local law enforcement resources to do the federal government’s job of enforcing immigration laws. Specifically, Massachusetts law enforcement would only be able to hold someone under an ICE detainer when the individual is over 18, has been convicted of a certain felony, and has either been ordered removed or charged with being removable, and when ICE has agreed to reimburse the law enforcement agency for all associated costs. Recent ICE statistics show that an alarming percentage of individuals deported from Massachusetts as a result of federal partnerships with local law enforcement had no criminal convictions or had only been charged with minor offenses. According to the bill’s sponsor, it will limit “unjust, unnecessary, and unsafe federal deportation programs, therefore restoring the trust between immigrant communities and police, and increasing the public safety for all residents in Massachusetts.”  While the Maryland legislature had been considering similar legislation this session (HB 29/SB554), the Maryland Law Enforcement Trust Act failed to move out of the necessary House and Senate committees.


This document was prepared in March 2014 for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. For questions, please contact CLINIC’s State & Local Advocacy Attorney Jen Riddle at or (301) 565-4807.


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