The red-hot immigration debate cooled in statehouses this year as lawmakers focused their attention on budgets, redistricting and, most significantly, the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court case on the issue.
Lawmakers still passed 208 immigration-related bills this year, but thats the fewest in any year since 2006, according to a new report by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Perhaps most notably, there were just five states including Kansas and Missouri that introduced sweeping bills this year that contained measures aimed at curtailing illegal immigration. No bill passed.
In contrast, last year legislatures in 30 states introduced 50 bills aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration similar to the Arizona law that was partially upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June.
A lot of folks talked about the Supreme Court case as a reason to pause and see what they could do, said Ann Morse, program director for the Immigrant Policy Project at the National Conference of State Legislatures. I am waiting for next year to see if states want to go forward and do more with what the Supreme Court has just authorized them to do. How will they take this authority? Do they want to get more engaged?
In June, the Supreme Court handed down a mixed opinion on Arizonas controversial immigration law, authored in part by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
The court said Arizona could require police who have stopped people for other legitimate reasons to check their residency status if the officers suspect they are in the United States illegally. However, the court struck down provisions of the law that made it a state crime to be in the country without authorization and for an illegal immigrant to work or seek work without authorization.
Lawmakers in Kansas and Missouri have tinkered with bills requiring police to check the immigration status of someone they suspect is in the United States illegally. But so far neither bill has gotten very far in either statehouse.
Both bills, however, could return next year after the Supreme Courts decision in the Arizona case.
I think there was sort of a wait-and-see attitude because of the Arizona case being in front of the Supreme Court, Kobach said. I think in a lot of states, Kansas included, some legislators said, Lets see what the Supreme Court says.
Morse said the immigration issue also could be recharged next year if President Barack Obama is re-elected and state legislatures have to decide how to deal with the presidents directive to allow certain young undocumented immigrants to remain in the country without being deported.
The question they could face is whether they recognize Obamas policy and provide public benefits to undocumented immigrants, or do they follow the lead of such states as Arizona, Mississippi and Nebraska, which are refusing to provide benefits to illegal immigrants even though they would not be deported.
This year in Kansas, the immigration debate was slowed by a tug of war between rank-and-file Republican lawmakers and their leaders.
Leadership in the House, which is dominated by conservative Republicans, wasnt interested in a divisive immigration bill that would cause an ugly floor fight and fracture the party.
A House committee took several days of testimony on bills that would have gotten tough on illegal immigration, plus one bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to help fill state-certified labor shortages in agriculture and other industries.