In recent years, states have increasingly embraced their role in immigration by exploring and enacting policies and positions to address the needs of their communities. States are doing what they can, given that Congress has been unable to pass meaningful policies to update the immigration system for decades.

2019 was no exception to this trend. This will likely continue all throughout 2020, as states find ways to support their residents—particularly those left out of federal coronavirus relief initiatives.

State legislatures passed more than 300 immigration-related laws and resolutions in 2019, according to a new report by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). More laws were passed, but fewer resolutions, compared to 2018.

According to NCSL, 47 states and territories enacted 181 laws and 135 resolutions related to immigration in 2019. Lawmakers passed over a dozen other bills that were vetoed by governors.

The bills enacted in 2019 cover various topics, from education to health to community trust. The greatest share were budgetary laws, which has been the case in previous years. Budget-related legislation typically authorizes state spending for programs and services involving education, integration, health, and/or law enforcement.

While topics varied, some trends emerged among state-level laws and resolutions. For example, several states passed legislation to address the 2020 census and immigrant residents. Most of these initiatives sought an accurate count of residents. Passing these laws was vital to ensure that immigrants would be included, as fears around completing the census have grown in immigrant communities.

Another trend involves professional or occupational licensing and credentialing. Many states face labor shortages in certain industries as workers reach retirement. To offset the loss, lawmakers in some states enacted legislation to make it easier for all residents to access, understand, and utilize the licensing and credentialing processes.

As in past years, states examined their role in federal immigration enforcement. Nearly a fifth of laws passed—35 laws in 14 states and the District of Columbia—pertained generally to enforcement. The laws addressed requirements for communicating with federal law enforcement agencies or assisting in their immigration enforcement. On the whole, most of the laws passed limit or establish clear criteria for when state law enforcement share information about a person’s immigration or citizenship status.

Examples of the types of legislation passed at the state level in 2019 include:

  • Colorado and Massachusetts enacted laws to fund 2020 census outreach programs to communities and populations—including immigrants—that prior censuses historically undercounted.
  • Laws passed in California, Illinois, and Nevada prohibited occupational or professional licenses to be denied based solely on an applicant’s immigration status.
  • Minnesota provided a one-time grant to the Construction Careers Foundation. This initiative will provide year-round learning opportunities for people under 21 to support pathways to construction-industry careers, especially for groups underrepresented in the industry or economically disadvantaged.
  • Laws enacted in Colorado, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia placed limits on civil immigration detainers.

State-level legislators also responded to, or called for, federal actions on immigration throughout the year. Among the 131 resolutions passed, 22 of them called for congressional or administrative action on immigration.

It is clear a wide range of immigration issues remain important to states and communities. As this year’s group of policymakers examine and weigh new proposals, it will be more important than ever to ensure state-level actions are designed to support and lift up all residents.