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Types of State and Local Immigration Laws

The brokenness of the federal government's immigration system has caused towns, cities, and states to pass their own immigration laws. Most have extended the federal government's emphasis on enforcement. Some are resisting this trend in favor of more humane and welcoming policies.


Enforcement type laws can be grouped into two categories, marginalization and criminalization. Often times, state legislation is a mixture of both.


Laws that seek to marginalize immigrants make it more difficult for them to participate in our society. The intent is to make life so difficult that undocumented immigrants "self-deport." Examples of laws that seek to marginalize include:

Instating English-only ordinances
English-only policies make it difficult for people of limited English proficiency to obtain needed services, and stigmatize Latinos, Asians, Pacific Islanders, Africans, Caribbeans, Native Americans, and other language minority groups.

Requiring proof of legal residence or citizenship in order to receive a driver's license or state ID
Restricting driver's licenses and state IDs to citizens makes it difficult for undocumented workers to find jobs, commute to work, and apply for services which require identification. These restrictions endanger all drivers, because some people will be forced to drive without having been certified.


Laws that seek to criminalize undocumented immigrants turn undocumented status, which is a civil offense under federal law, into a criminal offense. This allows/requires local law enforcement officials to actively seek out undocumented immigrants and mandates incarceration if caught.

Traditionally under the purview of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), allowing local police to detain undocumented persons causes undocumented immigrants and their family members to fear reporting crimes, which endangers all residents. It also encourages racial profiling and stigmatization of people of color, minority ethnicities, or foreign nationalities.

Immigrant-Friendly Local Legislation

Local and state legislation can also provide a safe space for immigrants and protect or reinforce their rights. Examples of immigrant-friendly legislation include laws that confer "sanctuary" status on a town or city, protect accessibility of services or approve in-state tuition rates for undocumented college students.

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