Mid-Year Overview of 2017 State Immigration Legislation | CLINIC

Mid-Year Overview of 2017 State Immigration Legislation

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Changes in federal immigration policies have motivated a substantial increase in state legislative action on immigration. This year, lawmakers in all 50 states met for legislative session. Between January and June, legislators in 49 states considered more than 300 immigration bills and resolutions. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there was a 90 percent increase in the number immigration laws enacted in the first half of 2017, compared to last year. In 2016, lawmakers in 41 states enacted 229 pieces of immigration legislation between January and June. However, within the same period this year, 47 states enacted 328 immigration laws and resolutions.[1]  Common policy issues include sanctuary policies, immigration enforcement by local law enforcement, refugee resettlement, employment (E-Verify), as well as in-state tuition for undocumented students.



Legislation involving law enforcement procedures dominated the 2017 legislative session. Approximately, 29 states considered more than 80 pieces of legislation concerning local law enforcement participation in federal immigration enforcement. Most of the bills called for local police/sheriff departments to assist or cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in their federal enforcement activities. Connecticut, Florida, Iowa and Ohio are a few of the states where lawmakers proposed such bills, adding that uncooperative municipalities would lose state funds. 

Other enforcement-related bills required local jails to comply with immigration detainer requests. Under these proposed laws, states like Florida, Louisiana and Virginia, would have forced local jails to hold immigrants in custody so ICE could pick them up, which is often beyond their scheduled released date. The Florida and Louisiana bills failed in senate committees, and the Virginia bill was vetoed by Governor McAuliffe.

Georgia and Texas enacted new anti-immigrant laws. The Georgia law directs state officials to create a state-run public website revealing identifying information of immigrants who are released from federal prison in the state. The law went into effect on July 1, 2017.  In Texas, Governor Abbott signed SB 4 making it a criminal offense for local police officers to refuse to assist ICE with federal immigration enforcement duties. The law also requires local jails to honor ICE detainer requests. The faith community, including the Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio and Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville, spoke out strongly against the measure stating that it erodes public trust in local law enforcement.[2] The law, set to go into effect in September, was met with legal challenges, which are ongoing. [3]

Conversely, there were a few bills attempting to separate local policing from federal immigration enforcement. California, Maryland and New Mexico proposed legislation to prohibit local police from using their resources to investigate or detain anyone suspected of a civil immigration violation. Illinois lawmakers passed the Illinois Trust Act (SB 31) to ban local law enforcement officials from detaining anyone for immigration enforcement purposes without a court-issued warrant. After weeks of overwhelming support from local advocacy groups, Governor Rauner agreed to sign the bill into law. [4]



There was also a substantial amount of legislation specifically addressing the topic of sanctuary city policies. At least 25 states and the District of Columbia proposed nearly 40 pieces of legislation compared to roughly 18 states that addressed the issue in 2016. The overwhelming majority of the bills proposed this legislative session were attempting to limit or penalize the adoption of sanctuary city policies. For example, Iowa, Missouri, Montana and Wisconsin proposed legislation explicitly banning municipalities from enacting sanctuary city policies and threatening to withhold state funds for noncompliance.

However, a few states proposed legislation supporting these policies. New Jersey introduced legislation that would provide grant funding to a locality that has had its federal grant funding denied or reduced based upon its status as a sanctuary jurisdiction.[5] Illinois’ legislature considered HB 426, the Immigration Safe Zones Act, to strictly prohibit schools, places of worship and health care facilities from granting access to state and federal officials for immigration enforcement purposes, unless they have a court-issued warrant.  Both bills are still pending in subcommittees.



A new trend among state legislators was anti-sanctuary campus legislation. Georgia, Indiana, Iowa and Mississippi were a few of the states that considered bills banning public colleges and universities from adopting sanctuary policies. Mississippi enacted SB 2710 to ban cities from enacting sanctuary policies, as well as schools from implementing policies that would discourage administrators from assisting or cooperating with federal officials in their immigration enforcement efforts. Indiana and Georgia also enacted laws banning similar policies in public and private colleges.



At least nine states proposed about 14 bills relating to in-state tuition for immigrants. The majority of the legislation extended in-state tuition to anyone who meets the state’s residency requirements, regardless of immigration status. Connecticut and Rhode Island, for example, considered legislation providing in-state tuition rates to undocumented students. The District of Columbia enacted the UDC DREAM Amendment Act of 2015 (B21- 0422) to allow any qualifying resident, regardless of immigration status, to pay in-state tuition and receive local financial aid at the University of the District of Columbia. The law took effect on April 15, 2017. Massachusetts lawmakers proposed a similar bill to extend state-funded financial assistance to anyone who has attended high school in the state for three or more years or has graduated from a high school in the state, and is attending a public college or university.

While many of the states proposed legislation allowing immigrants access to post-secondary education, some states took the opposite stance. Lawmakers in Texas and Florida attempted, unsuccessfully, to repeal laws that grant in-state tuition to undocumented college students.



There were not nearly as many bills addressing refugee resettlement in 2017 as there were in 2016. By our count, 14 states proposed legislation addressing the topic this year compared to more than 20 states in 2016. Federal policies limiting the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. may have had an effect on the decrease in legislation addressing refugee resettlement this legislative term. Most of the proposed legislation attempted to limit refugee resettlement or set up a system to track refugees resettling in the respective states. For example, South Dakota repealed the state agency’s authority to enter into agreements with the federal government regarding refugee resettlement. In Florida, lawmakers proposed HB 427 to end the state’s participation in the federal resettlement program. In a letter to the governor, Archbishop Wenski of Miami urged the administration to continue the program as it is the largest resettlement program in the country, having resettled more than 60,000 refugees last year.[6] The bill later failed in the House Committee on Health and Human Services.

Some states took a more positive approach to refugee resettlement. New York enacted a bill creating the Aid to Localities Budget that appropriates funds for the support of government services to refugees. Nebraska, Oregon and Vermont also all adopted resolutions supporting refugee resettlement in their states and advocating for the protection of refugee and immigrant rights.



More than 10 state legislatures considered proposed bills prohibiting employers from hiring unauthorized workers. Iowa, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Michigan are among the states with proposed bills requiring employers to verify the employment eligibility of the people they hire or face penalties such as civil fines, revocation of business license, or legal action. Maryland legislators proposed HB 1016 to require all foreign labor contractors to obtain licenses from the state before performing any contract, and further require all employers to hire only licensed contractors to perform farm labor services. Local advocates supported the measure because it would have prevented employers from taking advantage of foreign workers and expanded protections for workers against labor violations. [7] The Maryland bill failed in the House Appropriations Committee.



States such as Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and Nevada proposed bills addressing identification cards or driver’s licenses for immigrants. In North Carolina, lawmakers proposed HB 877 to extend driver’s licenses to undocumented residents. The Illinois legislature considered SB 308 to extend professional licenses to DACA recipients if they meet the state licensing requirements that apply to the profession. If the bill passes, Illinois will join Nebraska and New York, which approved professional licenses for DACA recipients in 2016.[8]  



Nearly 10 states addressed legal services for immigrants. New York approved state-funded programs to provide legal representation to immigrants in removal proceedings.[9] California and the District of Columbia have also proposed legislation to provide legal services to immigrants.

Also in California, lawmakers introduced AB 638 to eliminate the state’s category of immigration consultants, aligning state laws with federal laws that allow only attorneys and Department of Justice (DOJ) accredited representatives to represent people in immigration matters. Similarly, Arizona legislators considered SB 1421 to allow only qualified professionals, such as attorneys and DOJ accredited representatives, to provide legal assistance on immigration matters. A notary public who violates this law will pay a fine and have their commission revoked permanently. Although the Arizona bill passed the senate, it failed in the house.

The District of Columbia now makes it a criminal offense for an immigration services provider to misrepresent that he or she has authority to provide legal services on immigration matters or represent that he or she has special influence with federal officials. The law also prohibits the provider from collecting fees without performing work or refusing to return clients’ documents upon request.



Several states passed more than 25 resolutions relating to immigration. Colorado, Florida and Iowa introduced resolutions calling for the rescission of some or all of the president’s executive orders on immigration. California adopted HR 15 rejecting all of the provisions in the executive order restricting refugees and other foreign nationals’ travel to the U.S. Relating to interior enforcement, the District of Columbia passed a resolution denouncing immigration raids and reaffirming its sanctuary city status.  Additionally, the council resolved that local police will not engage in federal immigration enforcement.[10]


Prepared August 2017, referencing 2017 state legislative session


[1] See New NCSL Report Focuses on 2017 Immigration-Related Bills and Resolutions, August 2017, available at http://www.ncsl.org/press-room/new-ncsl-report-focuses-on-2017-immigration-related-bills-and-resolutions.aspx.

[2] “SB 4 and RGV community fears,” Valley Morning Star, Archbishop Gustavo-Garcia-Siller and Bishop Daniel Flores, June 5. 2017 available at http://www.valleymorningstar.com/news/columnists/article_0184b716-a9e0-581d-b3ea-f04c6b3fa87d.html.

[3] See “MALDEF sues on behalf of San Antonio, non-profit organization to stop Texas SB 4,” June 1, 2017, available at http://www.maldef.org/news/releases/2017_6_1_MALDEF_Sues_on_Behalf_of_San_Antonio_NonProfit_Organizations_to_Stop_TX_SB4/.

[4] See “Following Community-Led Effort, Gov. Rauner Commits to Sign Illinois TRUST Act,” Illinois Coalition For Immigrant and Refugee Rights, August 3, 2017, available at http://www.icirr.org/news-events/news/details/2110/following-community-led-effort-gov-rauner-commits-to-sign-illinois-trust-act.

[5] See “N.J. bill would fund sanctuary cities denied federal dollars by Trump,” NJ Advance Media, Steve Strunsky, March 3, 2017, available at http://www.nj.com/hudson/index.ssf/2017/02/state_bill_would_fund_sanctuary_cities_denied_fede.html.

[6] “Recommendation to Continue Current State Coordination on Resettlement,” dated Jan. 25, 2017, Florida Catholic Conference available at http://www.flaccb.org/documents/2017/1/170125RefugeeResettlement_Scott_Corcoran.pdf.

[7] See “Advancing Immigration Reform in Maryland,” AFL-CIO, Charlie Fanning, March 9, 2017 available at https://aflcio.org/2017/3/9/advancing-immigration-reform-maryland.

[8] “Professional Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants,” available at https://cliniclegal.org/resources/professional-licenses-undocumented-immigrants.

[9] “New York to provide lawyers for immigrants facing deportation,” CNN Money, Octavio Blanco, April 13, 2017 available at http://money.cnn.com/2017/04/13/news/economy/new-york-immigrant-legal-defense-fund/index.html.

[10] See “Sense of the Council in Reaffirmation of the Human Rights of District of Columbia Residents,” available at http://www.davidgrosso.org/grosso-analysis/2017/1/26/dc-recommits-to-human-rights-as-new-president-takes-over.