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It’s Not Just Texas: GOP-Led States Push for Tougher Immigration Laws

SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images
SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images

For a few hours on Tuesday, local Texas authorities were allowed to arrest suspected migrants who crossed the border without authorization under a controversial state law, Senate Bill 4 (S.B. 4). A federal appellate court paused enforcement of the law for now, but the fight over S.B. 4 has generated national attention and panic among immigration advocates.

The state claims S.B. 4 is the solution to an “invasion” of unauthorized migrants crossing the southern border, while opponents say the move is unconstitutional. Texas’ hard stance on immigration has also inspired Republican lawmakers across the country to push for similar legislation.

The Daily Beast has counted at least 10 GOP-controlled states that have introduced hardline immigration bills or proposals meant to deter migrants. While the bills vary in proposed application or severity, experts say all of them could threaten the federal government’s hold over immigration enforcement.

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“The measures are almost certainly politically driven, part of a desire to confront the federal government and the Biden administration over supposedly failed policies and to score political points with an issue that seems to help Republican lawmakers, in particular,” Cristina M. Rodriguez, a Yale Law School professor who has taught courses in immigration and constitutional law, told The Daily Beast.

The success of these Republican-pushed bills still hinges on the fate of S.B. 4. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet ruled on whether to allow a lower court’s preliminary injunction to take effect—which would continue to block local Texas authorities from enforcing S.B. 4. If the law is upheld, it could be seen as a playbook for similar bills. The Supreme Court ruled the law could take effect until the appeal is done, and it—or a bill like it—may end up reaching SCOTUS again.

Immigration advocates warn that these bills can exacerbate discrimination and racial profiling—and may spur confusion for local law enforcers on how to actually implement them.

“These anti-immigrant proposals create fear and confusion and will ultimately backfire on state legislators who claim that they are trying to ensure law and order,” Alina Das, a New York University clinical law professor and co-director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic, told The Daily Beast.

Here’s a round-up of states pushing for tougher immigration laws along the lines of S.B. 4:

Iowa

The Iowa House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill, known as Senate File 2340, that would allow state and local law enforcement to arrest and charge undocumented migrants who were previously deported from the U.S. or denied entry into the country. The bill makes an illegal re-entry an aggravated misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to a year in county jail. In some circumstances, like if the suspected undocumented migrant has a prior conviction, the state crime could become a Class D felony, which could result in up to five years in prison and a fine.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, who now has the bill on her desk, has already said she plans to sign it. If there is no legal pushback, the law is set to go into effect on July 1, 2024. Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, believes that the Iowa bill will get challenged “pretty quickly” and could see a Supreme Court battle.

“This bill is pretty close to Texas; that’s why I think it will be challenged on similar grounds,” Chishti told The Daily Beast. “It’s political theater.”

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Florida

On March 15, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed multiple bills that increase incarceration sentences for undocumented immigrants convicted of driving without a license or committing a felony.

“We do not tolerate illegal immigration, let alone lawlessness committed by illegal aliens who shouldn’t be here in the first place. The bills I signed further enhance Florida’s capabilities to uphold the law,” DeSantis said on Friday.

The move is not surprising, given the failed presidential candidate’s vocal critique of the Biden administration’s immigration policies and his decision to send Florida law enforcers to the Texas border.

The state already has a law that bars undocumented immigrants from obtaining a driver’s license. The new law, however, increases the maximum prison sentence to a year and bars drivers from using “community” IDs from some non-profits.

The new bills also increase the maximum prison sentence for an undocumented immigrant who commits a felony—or who was previously deported and just caught in the state—to at least a decade in prison.

“The Florida laws are really very troubling because they cover a swath of things,” Chishti said. “It’s more than a copycat measure.”

Missouri

Missouri has introduced at least four hardline immigration bills, including one sponsored by Republican State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Bill Eigel that would make it illegal for unauthorized migrants to enter the state. The bill would also force local colleges and universities to verify if applicants are in the U.S. legally before admission and block the General Assembly from funding any program that would help the undocumented.

Under the bill, known as S.B. 1372, punishment for “improper entry” would result in immediate deportation and a $100,000 fine. Repeat offenders could be sentenced to as much as seven years in prison, the same fine, and deportation.

“I’m also the only candidate for governor that’s gonna go after every one of the 50,000 to 70,000 illegal immigrants that are bringing crime into our community,” Eigel said earlier this month. “And if I have to drive the buses myself to the border of this country, we’re going to take our state back, folks.”

Another proposed bill, sponsored by GOP state Rep. Brad Hudson, would create a “border security enhancement act” to create a criminal trespassing offense for undocumented immigrants in the state. If arrested, an individual could face a class E felony and up to four years in prison. It would also require employers of a public company of more than 50 people to have a federal work authorization program. If they fail to do so and hire an undocumented immigrant, the state could take away its licenses for up to a year. The Missouri House just completed a hearing committee on this bill, but it is not yet scheduled for House floor action.

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New Hampshire

While most states look to the southern border, New Hampshire lawmakers are focusing their bills on crossings from Canada. The New Hampshire Senate passed a bill earlier this month that would charge anyone suspected of illegally entering the country from its north border with trespassing. The bill, which was sponsored by Republican Rep. Jeb Bradley and now heads to the House, would allow authorities to arrest suspected undocumented migrants found on privately owned recreational land. (Punishment under this proposed bill is not immediately clear.)

“If this bill passes, how do we distinguish between a migrant carrying a backpack and wearing boots and any other hiker who is permitted to walk on the land?” Democratic Sen. Becky Whitley said during a debate about the bill earlier this month.

Chishti notes that since trespassing involves private property, he is curious to see how this bill, if passed, will be implemented. “This could be problematic since residents have private property rights,” he added.

Kansas

In February, Republican State Senator Caryn Tyson requested to introduce S.B. 522, which would make it a crime for undocumented migrants to enter Kansas and would require federal immigration authorities to be notified upon arrest. The bill, which was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, would make unlawful entry a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Oklahoma

In Oklahoma, Republican lawmakers are trying to push legislation that would make the state less attractive to undocumented immigrants. A bill introduced by Republican Rep. Neil Hays, known as House BiIll 3071, seeks to restrict state funding for undocumented residents. The bill, which passed the House last week, would still allow for tax dollars to be used for domestic violence investigations and public education.

“This is preemptive legislation to let illegal immigrants know that Oklahoma is not the state to come to. If other states want to create policies to attract illegals, they can do that,” Hays said last week, using a derogatory term for undocumented immigrants. “But we need to stop the problem before it starts.”

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Louisiana

A Louisiana bill introduced this month by Republican State Senator Valarie Hodges seeks to make entry into the state by undocumented migrants illegal. Under this bill, which was referred to a Senate committee, undocumented immigrants could face up to a year in jail time, a $4,000 fine, or both.

Georgia

Following the murder of nursing student Laken Riley—who was allegedly killed by a Venezuelan man who entered the U.S. in 2022 and had several brushes with the law—Republican lawmakers have advanced a bill that would require Georgia law enforcers to help identify undocumented migrants and detain them. Earlier this month, the State House voted on a bill that would direct local law enforcement to work directly with federal immigration authorities, including allowing jail officials to check someone’s immigration status based on probable cause after they have been arrested on another offense. The bill states that if an individual is convicted, the violation would be considered a misdemeanor.

“This bill is slightly different from the others because this [one] is working with the federal government more collaboratively,” Chishti noted.

Arizona

Earlier this month, Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed a Republican-sponsored bill that would allow local police to crack down on illegal immigration and would make it a state crime for undocumented migrants to cross the border.

At least two bills in the House, and three others in the Senate, are strikingly similar and are making their way toward Hobbs’ desk. The Senate bills classify entry into Arizona outside of a legal port of entry to be a state crime and would allow local judges to decide immigration cases. The house bills seek to limit welfare programs for the undocumented. Another bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Justin Heap, would allow a property owner to legally shoot and kill someone crossing the border onto their property.

Tennessee

Last week, a Republican-controlled Tennessee house pushed forward a bill that would require local authorities to work with their federal counterparts if they find an undocumented immigrant. The bill, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Rusty Grills, now making its way to the Senate floor, would also mandate cooperation between state and federal law enforcement on identifying and deporting that undocumented person.

“Everyone is trying to be creative here,” Chishti said, adding that these states believe “immigration is a fundamental problem” and are trying to figure out ways to implement state laws that work around the federal ones.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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