State and federal laws on immigration in the United States differ and intersect in several significant ways. At the core, federal immigration laws are established and enforced by the U.S. federal government, governing issues such as visas, deportation, citizenship, and border enforcement. These federal laws are applied uniformly across the country. On the other hand, state immigration laws are enacted and enforced at the state level, addressing a range of issues like driver’s licenses, access to public benefits, and law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration authorities. This state-level authority allows for variations in immigration-related policies and regulations from one state to another.

One prominent area of intersection is the issue of driver’s licenses. States possess the authority to issue driver’s licenses and identification cards, and their policies regarding whether undocumented immigrants can obtain driver’s licenses can vary widely. Some states have implemented policies that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, while others do not. This exemplifies how state and federal laws on immigration intersect, as states exercise their discretion in determining eligibility for this particular benefit. However, federal immigration laws primarily govern matters like border enforcement and deportation, with states having varying degrees of influence and discretion in other areas, resulting in a complex and sometimes contentious relationship between state and federal immigration laws.

Though there were relatively few bills affecting immigration monitored by EPU during the 2023 legislative session, we thought it important to make note of the following:

Advancing Equity

  • Alabama House Bill 144 (enacted) – This law now provides for the certification of court interpreters
    • Why it’s important: Court interpreters are crucial for non-English speakers to ensure their access to justice and a fair legal process. They bridge language barriers, enabling individuals to understand and participate effectively in legal proceedings, which is essential for upholding the principles of due process and ensuring a just legal system.
  • Virginia House Bill 1928 (enacted) – This law now allows for remote online and Spanish language training for school bus operators.
    • Why it’s important: Offering training to employees in their native language is essential for several reasons. It ensures effective communication, comprehension, and retention of crucial information, leading to improved job performance and safety. Additionally, it fosters a more inclusive and diverse workplace, where employees from different language backgrounds can fully engage and contribute, promoting a sense of belonging and equity.
  • Florida House Bill 1089 (failed) – This bill would have required the administration of multilingual versions of certain statewide, standardized tests in specified home languages to certain students who are or were English language learners. 
    • Why it’s important: Offering multilingual options for standardized testing in public schools is essential to ensure equitable access to education. It helps students whose primary language is not English to demonstrate their knowledge and skills accurately, promoting fairness and inclusivity in the educational system and preventing language barriers from being a hindrance to their academic success.
  • Georgia House Bill 613 (failed) – This bill would have provided an income tax credit for qualified citizenship expenses for low-income families.
    • Why it’s important: Offering a tax credit to low-income families for citizenship expenses is a sound policy for advancing equity by removing financial obstacles to naturalization. This approach not only promotes social and economic integration but also enhances democratic participation, reducing inequality and fostering more inclusive communities.

Negatively Impacting Equity

  • Florida Senate Bill 1718 (enacted) – This bill restricts access to identification documents and certain licenses for individuals who cannot provide lawful presence in the United States. The bill also requires hospitals to collect immigration status data, and imposes penalties on employers who knowingly hire undocumented persons without verifying their employment eligibility. 
    • Why it’s important: Putting bans on undocumented persons’ access to identification cards and related services can perpetuate social and economic disparities, undermine their overall well-being, and hinder their ability to live equitable lives. These policies can contribute to the marginalization and exclusion of a vulnerable population, which can have negative consequences not only for the individuals affected but also for society as a whole.
  • West Virginia House Bill 2008 (enacted) – The law mandates state and local entities, including law enforcement agencies, to cooperate with immigration law enforcement and outlines procedures for handling immigration detainers, defined as “a facially sufficient written or electronic request issued by a federal immigration agency using that agency’s official form to request that another law enforcement agency detain a person based on probable cause to believe that the person to be detained is a removable alien under federal immigration law”. It also includes provisions for complaints against those not enforcing these laws, legal defenses for good-faith compliance, and protection for whistle-blowers who report violations of the law.
    • Why it’s important: Enforcing federal immigration laws at the state level presents several problems. It raises legal questions about the authority of states to engage in immigration enforcement, leading to potential conflicts and legal disputes. It can also undermine community trust, as immigrant communities may fear interaction with state and local law enforcement, hindering public safety efforts. It also has the potential to divert limited state resources away from other pressing priorities, creating challenges in resource allocation and potential economic consequences. These issues underscore the complex and multifaceted nature of immigration enforcement and the need for a comprehensive federal approach.


2024 Outlook

The outlook for immigration law in state legislatures across the South remains dynamic and contingent on a complex interplay of factors. The political composition of each state’s legislature is a key determinant as states with more conservative majorities may continue to pursue stricter immigration policies, including measures related to enforcement and cooperation with federal authorities. Additionally, federal immigration policy changes, such as shifts in enforcement priorities or pathways to citizenship, can significantly influence how states address immigration issues. State lawmakers often respond to changes at the federal level by proposing legislation that aligns with their stance on immigration. EPU will continue to monitor this complex mosaic, working with stakeholders and partners advocating for the equitable treatment of immigrants in the United States on the state-level policy developments in the 2024 legislative sessions.