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Addressing Immigration Issues, State by State

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Now, with some of those congressional proposals that drew thousands of protestors into the streets of Phoenix, Arizona today, Arizona itself has some of the country's toughest laws against illegal immigration. Mark Matthews covers immigration and homeland security for the online news magazine Stateline.org. Thanks for being with us.

MARK K: Not a problem.

BLOCK: And protests, immigration protests in Arizona, not a rare thing.

MATTHEWS: No, they've been pretty active in Arizona on this front since November of 2004 when Proposition 200 passed. About 55 percent voted for the measure. And what it did was it denied any type of public service benefit to illegal immigrants, and then also denied voting to anyone who was not in this country legally. Both these measures were essentially symbolic, because both of those rights are denied to illegal immigrants to begin with, for the most part. But what it did, it galvanized a lot of the conservatives in the state to really push for further measures against illegal immigration.

BLOCK: What other laws did it lead to?

MATTHEWS: Arizona police officers, as well as federal Border Patrol officers, can now arrest people who are suspected of smuggling illegal immigrants. They can also seize vehicles driven by illegal immigrants that are involved in an accident. State judges can lengthen a felony sentence if the person convicted has violated a federal immigration law. And city and county officials can't spend any money on migrant work centers, which are where a lot of places that illegal immigrants go and try to find jobs from people around the state.

BLOCK: When you look broadly around the country, how many states are taking immigration on in their legislatures? How many laws are we seeing?

MATTHEWS: You would see every single state is looking at this. In 2005, you had over 300 laws relating to illegal immigration. And by the end of February this year, you have about 380 bills aimed at illegal immigration throughout the country in different statehouses.

BLOCK: And are they taking up the same sorts of questions that Congress is taking up on a national level?

MATTHEWS: You've seen a very, very broad swath of legislation being pushed by the different states, everything from denying public benefits to illegal immigrants, to expanding tuition rights, something that you saw in New Mexico last year. They passed a new law that would allow for illegal immigrant students to attend public universities at in-state rates. And they became the ninth state to be able to do that.

BLOCK: So there are states that are making circumstances more favorable to immigrants at the same time that a number of states are cracking down even further.

MATTHEWS: That's correct. In Illinois, they passed, in 2005 they passed protection for day laborers, which is one of the first measures in the country to do that.

BLOCK: When you look at what different states are doing, does this break down cleanly along Democratic/Republican blue state/red state lines?

MATTHEWS: No, this is an issue that has a lot of different supporters from a lot of different areas. In fact, if you poll any different legislature from any different statehouse in the country, you'll probably have a different answer to how to solve this. And all across this country this is something that is not very easily a Republican/Democrat issue.

BLOCK: Mark Matthews is a staff writer who covers immigration and homeland security for Stateline.org. Mark, thanks very much.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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