WASHINGTON -- After a recent climb, the number of immigration bills and resolutions passed by state legislatures fell significantly in the first half of this year, with 20 percent fewer pieces of legislation passed and 40 percent fewer introduced, according to a report released Monday by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
That's not to say immigration bills have disappeared: Legislatures enacted 114 laws and adopted 92 resolutions that dealt with immigration in the first half of 2012. Those bills and resolutions came from 41 states. Although that's still a large number of bills and resolutions, the numbers were a 20 percent drop from the first half of 2011, when state lawmakers passed 257 laws and resolutions.
Lawmakers have introduced 948 pieces of legislation related to immigrants and refugees so far this year, while in the first half of 2011 they introduced a total of 1,592.
"The states are continuing to have a high degree of interest in issues related to immigration and to immigrant integration and there, I think, is still a continued sentiment that the federal government needs to take action on this issue," Washington state Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, a co-chair of the NCSL Immigration and the States Task Force, said on a press call.
In part, the NCSL attributed that decrease to a wariness by state lawmakers to pass restrictive immigration laws as they waited for a ruling on the constitutionality of Arizona's S.B. 1070, enacted in 2010. The law was a precursor to copycat legislation in 30 state legislatures last year. This year, no copycat legislation was enacted, and only five state legislatures -- Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Rhode Island and West Virginia -- introduced such bills at all.
The Supreme Court struck down some major provisions of S.B. 1070, but left others in place, sending a mixed message on whether that type of legislation was unconstitutional. The issue is likely to come up again, though, in lawsuits that argue the Arizona immigration law leads to racial profiling and otherwise violates rights.
Virginia state Sen. John Watkins, the other co-chair of the task force, said the number of copycat bills could go up after the Supreme Court's decision.
"I think the court case has changed a lot of things," he said. "I think the anticipation of that decision really slowed down action at the state level. I do think that we will see, probably, some renewed interest."