Immigration Debate: Number of City, State Bills Relating to Immigration Increase

Cities and states across the country are embroiled in costly immigration suits.

July 21, 2010, 4:26 PM

Aug. 2, 2010 -- Arizona's immigration law has garnered the most controversy and national attention, but across the country, cities and states are considering laws that are fueling the fire in the contentious debate over immigration.

From the Midwest to the East Coast, some cities and states are taking the unusual step of implementing laws and regulations that cross into the traditional jurisdiction of the federal government.

In the first quarter of 2010 alone, state legislators in 45 states introduced 1,180 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants and refugees, up from the first quarter of 2009, when 25 states passed 35 laws and adopted 40 resolutions, according to the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislators.

As of March 31, the NCSL estimated that 34 state legislatures had passed 71 laws and adopted 87 resolutions, and 37 bills were pending signatures on governors' desks.

Critics question the constitutionality of these laws, but supporters across the board say they are designed to curb what they see as a growing problem surrounding illegal immigration.

Here is a look at some of the states and cities that have adopted or are debating controversial immigration laws:

The small Midwest town of Fremont, Nebraska, boasts a relatively small population of 25,000 people, and an unemployment rate that's far below the national average. Yet, the city overwhelmingly voted to pass an ordinance that would bar landlords and employers from renting to and hiring illegal immigrants.

Renters would have to apply for a license that entails a background police check. Any renters that don't have legal resident documents would be turned over to federal authorities. The ordinance also requires employers to check the legal status of their employees through the e-Verify database.

The law will likely be tangled in legal limbo for months, in what the city expects will cost residents upward of $3 million.

On July 20, both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund filed lawsuits to stop enforcement of the law.

Both lawsuits charged that the law is unconstitutional and encroaches on the federal government's authority to enforce immigration law. The groups also said the ordinance, if implemented, will have a discriminatory effect on those who look or sound foreign.

"This law encourages discrimination and racial profiling against Latinos and others who appear to be foreign born, including U.S. citizens," Amy Miller, legal director of ACLU Nebraska, said in a statement.

Last week, the City Council unanimously voted to delay implementation of the ordinance until the lawsuits are resolved.

Supporters of the ordinance blame illegal immigrants for taking away jobs and burdening taxpayers. Fremont's meat-packing industry employs a large number of Hispanics and foreign-born workers, but most of those plants are located outside the purview of the city, and employers say they already check the status of their workers.

Hispanics comprise a small minority of Fremont's population, only about 8 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau 2006-2008 data. The Hispanic population has nearly doubled since 2000, while the city's white population has declined slightly.

Tennessee is the latest state attempting to beef up immigration enforcement. In late June, Gov. Phil Bredesen signed into law a bill requiring jailers to check the immigration status of all foreign-born inmates.

The state's Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission would be required "to develop a standardized written procedure for verifying citizenship status of persons arrested, booked, or confined in a county or municipal jail or detention facility," and report them to federal authorities if they are undocumented.

The state will write new rules and expand the use of a federal electronic fingerprinting system called Secure Communities, which authorities say will give jailers a direct link to federal immigration authorities.

Nashville and Memphis will be exempt from the new rules because they already have agreements with immigration officials.

Critics say the law will only bolster racial profiling and it unfairly targets those who are foreign-born. The Tennessee Sheriffs' Association objected to the law on the grounds that it would increase unnecessary paperwork and delays.

Tennessee has a relatively small minority compared to other states. More than 79 percent of its population is white, with Asians and Hispanics comprising less than 7 percent of the total population.

The law is set to take effect on Jan. 1.

Well before Arizona garnered the national spotlight, Oklahoma took center stage in the immigration debate. In 2007, state legislators passed a bill making it harder for undocumented citizens to get government issued IDs and access to public services. It also gave the police authority to check the status of people they considered to be illegal citizens and made it illegal for anyone to hire or house undocumented residents, creating a firestorm of criticism and lawsuits which ultimately voided some sections of the law.

Since then, Oklahoma has flirted with several anti-immigration bills that have been met with varied reaction.

Last year, the state's Senate and House passed a bill requiring all illegal immigrants to undergo DNA testing, regardless of what crime they were arrested for. The data gathered would be added to a DNA database to be checked against evidence from other crimes.

Supporters of the measure said the law was necessary to ensure that illegal immigrants could be checked against other crimes before being sent back to their country of origin.

State lawmakers have also discussed other immigration bills that would confiscate cars driven by undocumented citizens and deny citizenship to children of illegal immigrants.

Critics, such as the ACLU, have denounced such measures as "un-American."

Fremont follows in the footsteps of several cities that have enacted laws making it tougher for illegal immigrants to rent in a city's vicinity.

The city of Valley Park, Mo., passed an ordinance in 2006 enforcing strict penalties on landlords who rented to undocumented citizens. The ordinance, embroiled in litigation for years, was upheld by the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. However, it wasn't enforced because of a bill passed by the state legislature overruling the ordinance.

Similar measures passed in Farmers Branch, Texas, and Hazleton, Pa., have been bogged down in costly legal battles for years.

In 2006, the small Texas town became the first in the state to pass such a measure, but it has been put on hold because of court cases.

ABC News' Julie Percha and Alexander Pepper contributed to this report.

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