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Amid DC inaction, local immigration policies get political

(NewsNation) — Immigration has been viewed as a federal issue for much of American history, but as Congress remains gridlocked, states are increasingly taking it upon themselves to introduce laws that are in line with their constituents’ politics.

On Monday, California State Assembly Member Miguel Santiago. D-Los Angeles. joined progressive Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón to announce the “Immigrant Rights Act.” The bill is intended to encourage undocumented Californians who are survivors and witnesses of crimes to come forward by protecting them from deportation.

On the other side of the country, lawmakers in Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature are considering an extensive package that would toughen the state’s immigration laws.

Experts say recent immigration proposals — particularly in Florida — are a continuation of broader changes that came to a head in 2010. That’s the year Arizona lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1070 — referred to by critics as the “show me your papers” law — which authorized law enforcement to request immigration paperwork of those they suspected of being undocumented.

Up to that point, immigration bills at the state level were mostly seen as symbolic political gestures with “more bark than bite,” said Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute.

The U.S. Supreme Court later struck down three of the four provisions of the Arizona law but now that the composition of the court has changed, governors and lawmakers may see an opportunity to revisit the issue, Chishti pointed out.

The bills being considered in Florida — which have the support of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — would be the most far-reaching immigration legislation since Arizona’s.

The new measures would invalidate out-of-state licenses issued to undocumented migrants, make it a felony to “knowingly transport, conceal, or harbor” illegal migrants and require employers to e-verify the legal status of new employees, among other changes.

The Sunshine State is home to an estimated 772,000 unauthorized immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute. It also has the largest immigration court backlog in the country with more than 330,000 cases pending as of January.

Andrew Arthur, a resident fellow in law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, says the recent efforts by DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to crack down on illegal immigration are a direct response to the migrant surge at the southern border since President Joe Biden took office.

“I think that what you’re seeing is very much frustration on the part of a number of states at a lack of enforcement ever since January 2021,” Arthur said.

Like so much else in American politics, Democrats and Republicans have become more polarized on the topic of immigration in recent years. About 71% of Republicans are dissatisfied with the current level of immigration and want it decreased, compared to 19% of Democrats who say the same, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Given that divide, Arthur thinks Gascón, DeSantis and Abbott are backing immigration policies that are politically popular with their constituents, though it remains to be seen how that support could change in the near future.

For all Americans, the rate of those who want less immigration has jumped from 19% to 40% since Biden took over, per Gallup.

In that regard, the more restrictive immigration postures adopted by Abbott and DeSanits could resonate with voters heading into 2024.

The Biden Administration is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen and announced new measures in early January to limit illegal migration. Since then, the number of encounters with migrants has plummeted almost 40% from the record highs in December.