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Republican-led states aim to advance their own immigration laws


We've been reporting on that controversial Texas law, SB4, to allow their local authorities to arrest and deport people who were in the U.S. illegally. Now, other Republican-led states are following Texas' lead and advancing their own measures. Here to explain is NPR's Ryland Barton. Good morning, Ryland.


MARTIN: So could you just start by giving us an overview of what's going on in these states? How do they compare to what Texas has passed?

BARTON: Yeah. So there's at least five other states, including Iowa, Georgia, Missouri, where Republican governors and legislatures are considering bills similar to Texas'. Iowa's is the first that made it across the finish line. So their undocumented immigrants would face up to two years in prison if they're found to have illegally reentered the country. Here's Iowa Republican state Representative Steven Holt, who sponsored the bill there.


STEVEN HOLT: We know that many have come across our border just to have a better life and escape the pain in their own countries, but we also know that there are gang members, terrorists, rapists and those who commit murder who have also crossed our border.

BARTON: So even in places far away from the southern border, a lot of elected Republicans say immigration is their top issue. And that's true for voters, too. Recent polling shows immigration is the issue most cited by U.S. adults as the country's biggest problem, according to Gallup.

MARTIN: Say more about this, if you would. I take it that there's a through line that you're seeing in other states with this style of legislation?

BARTON: Yeah. So all these efforts are slightly different, but they apply to responsibilities that are historically reserved for federal immigration enforcement. In Oklahoma, Republicans say they want their own Texas-style bill in case the court systems end up ruling in favor of what Texas is doing. The state's attorney general, Gentner Drummond, said the state should have a law on the books, quote, "if and when that day comes," and Georgia has a bill that gained more support after the killing of a nursing student, Laken Riley, earlier this year. It would punish law enforcement for not verifying a suspect's immigration status. Meanwhile, immigration rights advocates worry these proposals would demonize all immigrants and could lead to an increase in profiling and civil rights abuses.

MARTIN: Well, you know, speaking of that, you know, this back and forth in the court system, I think as most people know, that this Texas bill is tied up in court. It's currently on pause due to a federal appeals court ruling. Do you have a sense of the legal future for these other bills?

BARTON: Yeah. The future is really going to depend on the outcome of that Texas case, because this all hinges on an important question - what roles do states play in regulating immigration? The Biden administration argues that the federal government has the exclusive power to enforce immigration law, but these Republican-led states say they should be able to, as well. And it's important to point out there is some relatively recent legal precedent for this. Remember in 2012, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down that part of Arizona's controversial law, SB 1070, that was similar to the new Texas law.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, what about states led by Democrats? How are they reacting?

BARTON: Yeah. So before we talk about the blue states in purple Arizona, the Republican-led legislature passed a Texas-style immigration law, but it was quickly vetoed by Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs. One of the biggest recent changes has been in California. Starting this year, low-income individuals in that state have access to health care regardless of their immigration status. And it's important to point out not all states removing barriers for immigrants are led by Democrats, either. A proposal in Indiana would allow nurses trained in other parts of the world to more easily get licensed in the state.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Ryland Barton. Ryland, thank you.

BARTON: Thank you.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ryland is the state capitol reporter for the Kentucky Public Radio Network, a group of public radio stations including WKU Public Radio. A native of Lexington, Ryland has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.