ByÂ JULIA PRESTON, The New York Times
Under newly fortified Republican control, many state governments started the year pledging forceful action to crack down on illegalÂ immigration, saying they would fill a void left by the stalemate in Washington over the issue.
Now, with some legislatures winding down their sessions, the lack of consensus that has immobilized Congress has shown up in the legislatures as well, and has slowed â€” but not stopped â€” the advance of bills to penalize illegal immigrants.
No state has passed a law that replicates the one adopted last April in Arizona, which greatly expanded the powers of police officers to question the immigration status of people they stop.
Still, immigrant advocates in many states say the debate has clearly shifted in favor of tougher enforcement. They say they have had to fight just to hold the line on immigration issues that they thought were long settled.
Bills similar to Arizonaâ€™s are advancing in Florida, Kansas, Oklahoma and South Carolina. In Kansas and Oklahoma, even though Republicans control the legislatures and the executive branch, immigration proposals have encountered unusually vocal opposition from business.
Arizona-style bills died early in Colorado, and Nebraska decided this month to end its debate on one. Arizonaâ€™s law requires state and local police officers to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they stop if they have a â€œreasonable suspicionâ€ the person is an illegal immigrant.
States also wrestled with other kinds of immigration initiatives. In New Mexico and Washington, Democrats backed by immigrant advocates defeated efforts to repeal laws granting driverâ€™s licenses to illegal immigrants. Those two states and Utah are the only ones that give licenses to illegal immigrants.
In New Mexico, the repeal effort was championed by Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican and a Hispanic, who had promised such a move in her campaign last year. A bill she supported was defeated by the Democratic-controlled State Senate on Wednesday. Instead, it approved a bill that added requirements, including fingerprinting, for immigrants without aÂ Social Securitynumber who apply for licenses.
If that bill wins final approval and the governorâ€™s signature, it will create a two-tiered system in which licenses issued to people without proof of legal residence will be distinctively marked. According to license authorities, about 83,000 illegal immigrants are driving in New Mexico.
Ms. Martinez vowed to continue to fight for the repeal, although this is the final week of the legislative session. She called the current law â€œdangerousâ€ and accused Democrats of â€œpartisan political gamesmanshipâ€ for blocking its repeal.
Marcela DÃaz, executive director ofÂ Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a group that led the license fight, said, â€œItâ€™s a good sign that we will be able to maintain licenses for folks who are living, working and paying taxes in our state, regardless of their immigration status.â€
But, she said, â€œWe donâ€™t take anything for granted.â€
In Washington State, the debate over driverâ€™s license rules polarized a state that has been relatively tolerant of illegal immigrants, an important part of the work force that picks apples. Several Democrats joined Republicans in supporting a repeal of the license law.
State fiscal authorities estimated that the repeal would cost about $1.5 million a year in new verification technology and monitoring expenses. That swayed some budget-minded lawmakers, and the bill was killed Monday.
â€œWe saw tremendous momentum against us,â€ said Pramila Jayapal, executive director ofÂ OneAmerica, an immigrant advocate group. â€œBut there was a realization that the debate was very divisive, and it was not going to solve the immigration problem.â€
To read more, visit:Â http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/14/us/14immig.html?_r=1
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