* Decline attributed to pending litigation
* Budget issues, redistricting bigger priorities this year
By Tim Gaynor
PHOENIX, Aug 6 (Reuters) - U.S. state legislatures passed fewer immigration measures this year because lawmakers' priorities shifted to balancing budgets and U.S. courts were weighing how much authority states have to enforce immigration laws, according to a study released on Monday.
The National Conference of State Legislatures found 41 states enacted 114 bills and adopted 92 resolutions relating to immigrants and refugees in the first six months of this year, a decline of 20 percent compared to the same period in 2011.
"Legislators found that state budget gaps and redistricting maps took priority, consuming much of the legislative schedule," according to a report by the group's Immigration Policy Project.
"Perhaps more significant, state lawmakers cited pending litigation on states' authority to enforce immigration laws as further reason to postpone action," it added.
Immigration, particularly what to do about 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the shadows nationwide, has been a divisive issue in this nation of immigrants.
Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed a law two years ago designed to drive undocumented immigrants out of the border state. Parts of the law were later blocked by a federal judge.
Last year, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah also cracked down on unauthorized immigration. But the laws passed in those states were either partially or entirely blocked by the courts.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the most controversial provision of Arizona's law, which requires police to check the immigration status of people they stop, but it threw out three other provisions.
Still pending in Arizona is a lawsuit that tests additional constitutional questions not addressed in the recent Supreme Court ruling.
In 2011, 30 state legislatures introduced more than 50 broad immigration bills similar to Arizona's. Five states, including Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Rhode Island and West Virginia, have done so this year, but none were enacted, according to the report.
Alabama amended its law this year to require police to detain people they suspect of being in the United States without documentation if they cannot produce proper documentation. The law also targets those harboring and transporting undocumented immigrants.
Legislation related to identification and driver's licenses remained top issues addressed by state legislatures, accounting for 18 percent and 11 percent, respectively, of all immigration laws enacted in the first half of 2012, the report said.
States continued to approve legislation that funds naturalization, migrant and refugee programs, according to the report. Laws related to those programs made up about one-quarter of the laws passed in the first half of 2012, the study said. (Editing by Stacey Joyce)
The Template: California Proposition 187 (1994)
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Worst: Arizona SB 1070
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. This law has been widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It requires state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there is "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believe was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010. But it has generated a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. A federal judge issued a ruling that blocked what critics saw as some of the law's harshest provisions. House: 35-31 (4/12/2011)
Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>
A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010
The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56
The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>