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State legislatures faced an unprecedented number of immigration bills introduced during the first quarter of the year, with most focusing on areas of law enforcement and employment, according to a National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) report released Monday.
The study found 1,538 immigration bills were introduced in 50 states and Puerto Rico up from 1,180 during the first quarter of 2010. And Bill Pound, executive director of the NCSL, expects immigration-related bills will continue to be a steady presence in state capitols.
"I don't know if the numbers will be higher, but the action will be constant," Pound said.
He also said Utah's comprehensive approach would likely be emulated in other states as they take stock of the image and economic fallout from Arizona's passage of SB1070 the enforcement-only bill that has had major chunks struck down by the federal courts as unconstitutional.
An Associated Press review found that in legislature after legislature, nearly all of the most punitive measures failed and noted only Utah and Georgia have managed to pass comprehensive bills with South Carolina and Alabama considering them.
Utah passed four immigration bills in this past session, including the controversial HB116 a guest-worker bill that is the subject of a repeal movement and HB497, which was inspired by Arizona's SB1070 and is now the target of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center.
Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, sponsored HB497 and has also been a vocal critic of the guest-worker bill. He said he thinks the guest-worker bill will take a hit at the Utah Republican Convention next month when a resolution is introduced seeking to repeal the measure.
"I think when people learn more about it, they don't want it," Sandstrom said.
The guest-worker bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, was signed by Gov. Gary Herbert but doesn't take effect until 2013 or before, if the federal government OKs a waiver.
Among its provisions, it would allow undocumented immigrants already in Utah to pay a $1,000 fine for an overstayed visa or a $2,500 fine for coming to the state illegally. It would subject them to background checks and set them up with a taxpayer identification number to ensure that taxes are paid.
The legislation was inspired by the Utah Compact, which was an attempt to approach the issue more humanely and was signed by faith-based groups, business leaders and political leaders. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints didn't sign the compact, but did endorse it. Critics have charged the church with lobbying behind the scenes to get HB116 passed, and there are rumblings a substitute bill will be introduced next session to try to strip it.
Ann Morse, Immigrant Policy Project director for the NCSL, said because the issue is so volatile, new bills introduced to amend or stop a previously passed bill are adding to the overall totals.
She said, for example, bills seeking to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students make regular appearances in state legislatures but each time one is introduced, it's considered a new bill.
Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, tried to repeal Utah's in-state tuition law this past session but failed.
The report also showed that while more bills were introduced in 2011, there was actually more success in getting laws enacted and resolutions passed in 2010.
For the first three months of this year, 26 states enacted 63 immigration-related laws and adopted 78 resolutions on the subject. During the same period in 2010, 34 states had enacted 71 laws and adopted 87 resolutions.
Top Categories for Immigration Bills
Employment • 279 bills in 44 states
Law Enforcement • 267 bills in 42 states
Driver Licenses • 171 bills in 40 states
Health • 168 bills in 38 states
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures