Undocumented nannies, housekeepers or lawn caretakers in the state of Texas can perhaps breathe easier about deportation. While new legislation in the Texas House of Representatives would make it a state crime to hire undocumented workers, it excludes those employed in single-family households -- in other words, them.
The bill, introduced by state GOP Rep. Debbie Riddle, is the first of its kind in the country. It's unique in that while it appeases those who want more stringent immigration laws, it doesn't subject Texas households to the rule that would mainly apply to businesses and large employers.
Critics of the bill say it's hypocritical. Supporters charge it's needed in a state where the Hispanic population continues to climb swiftly.
Though it remains stuck in political limbo, the bill reflects a wider push toward implementing tougher anti-immigration laws at the state level. More than 100 immigration-related bills are pending in the Texas legislature alone, including those that would give state and local police officers the authority to enforce federal immigration laws, make English the official language and prevent undocumented students from getting in-state tuition and scholarships.
States across the country, including Georgia and Oklahoma, where the legislatures debated immigration bills this week, have been mulling controversial Arizona-style immigration laws.Thirty-seven states are considering tougher immigration bills, with multiple bills pending in some states.
"The mere fact that Arizona law has sprung up in over 24 other states within a few months of passage, I believe, is historic," said William Gheen, president and spokesman of Americans for Legal Immigration, a group that supports stricter immigration laws.
"We are going to pass more immigration enforcement legislation in the states in 2011 than any year prior. And what we don't get done in 2011 we will get done in 2012," he vowed.
States enacted a record number of bills and resolutions on immigration issues during the 2010 sessions, and every state that met in regular session in 2010 considered laws related to immigrants, according to a National Conference of State Legislatures report. Forty-six state legislatures and the District of Columbia passed 208 laws and adopted 138 resolutions for a total of 346.
The momentum, in part, is being driven by the ascent of Republicans in state legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives. Many GOP leaders, especially in Southern and Midwestern states, made immigration a flagship issue of their campaigns.
Critics of tougher laws say these newly minted legislators are unfairly targeting immigrants when they should instead be focused on the economy, the No. 1 priority for most Americans.
"I think that you have extremists who have taken over statehouses and governors' officers across the country," said Ali Noorani, executive director of National Immigration Forum. "Rather than fixing the economy and reducing budget deficits, they have chosen to scapegoat immigrants. It's the classic bait and switch, and this time, the immigrant community is the bait."
Republicans say they are taking on this issue because of inaction on the federal government's part.