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State Elections Produce New Opportunities, Perils for Immigration Enforcement


Most people focus on national elections, especially in a presidential year, but state legislative and gubernatorial elections also affect the policy calculus. Read on to see how the elections may affect pro-immigration enforcement or pro-illegal alien policies in certain states.

 New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez may have a better chance of banning driver’s licenses for illegal aliens after the changes the voters wrought.  There will be at least 15 new senators and the election appears to have added more supporters of the governor's ban.

Votes to fill legislative seats shifted control of the Arkansas Senate and House from Democratic to Republican hands. This could embolden Republicans to push enforcement bills that were blocked under past Democratic leaders. Republicans may find an ally, too, in Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who has expressed support for some enforcement measures.

The Wisconsin Senate also shifted from Democratic to Republican control, and the Alaska Senate moved from a tie to Republican control, although Republican leaders in both states have not focused on immigration enforcement legislation yet.

The Colorado House, the New Hampshire House and the New York Senate shifted from Republican to Democratic control. In Colorado, that means opponents of in-state tuition for illegal aliens may not be able to count on killing legislation in the House next year. And the New Hampshire House is less likely to produce pro-enforcement legislation in 2013 as it did this year. The Speaker of the New York Assembly sponsored an in-state tuition bill a few months ago but it had no chance for passage until Democrats won the Senate.

The Maine Senate and House and the Minnesota Senate and House shifted from Republican to Democratic control. Republicans in Maine have not focused on immigration enforcement but Minnesota Republicans have. A bill cleared the Minnesota legislature this year that would have required state agencies to use E-Verify for vetting the workplace eligibility of new hires. Unfortunately, Democratic Governor Mark Dayton vetoed that bill. Now, he is unlikely to be challenged on that issue again under Democratic control.

The Oregon House shifted from a tie to Democratic control. This could improve the chances of passing legislation that repeals the ban on driver’s licenses for illegal aliens. As it is, Gov. John Kitzhaber seems ready to give illegal aliens driving privileges. He has already facilitated illegal presence in Oregon by directing state police to accept Mexican Matricula Consular cards as a valid form of ID. Pro-enforcement legislators may have a battle on their hands in 2013.

Democrats expanded their edge in the California and Illinois legislatures by winning a two-thirds majority in both houses. That means Democrats can bring up pro-illegal aliens bills – e.g., the California bill this year that gave driver's licenses to illegal alien recipients of the Obama Administration’s executive amnesty -- and pass them without Republican votes.

The gubernatorial races produced a mixed bag as well. U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana’s next governor, has a recent “A” grade and a career “B+” grade from NumbersUSA. In matters concerning illegal immigration, he scored high marks recently but we should not forget that he previously authored the so-called Pence plan that gives illegal aliens amnesty after they “touched back” in their home country. The re-election of Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller will not help in the defense of the state’s 2011 immigration enforcement law. Zoeller unilaterally decided to forgo defending several provisions of the law that are still enjoined by a federal court.

The voters in Utah re-elected Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican. In 2011, Hebert signed into law a relatively strong enforcement bill, but also signed two unconstitutional state-based guest worker bills.

The governor’s seat flipped to Republicans in North Carolina this election, but don’t look for governor-elect Pat McCrory to carry the banner for immigration enforcement. During the campaign, he endorsed using the 287(g) program, which enables police to perform some of the functions of ICE agents, but also said North Carolina “didn’t need new immigration laws.”

In Montana, Democratic state Attorney General Steve Bullock narrowly defeated former Republican U.S. Rep. Rick Hill. Bullock had not commented on immigration during the campaign. Hill had an “A” grade from NumbersUSA on immigration enforcement.

In Washington State, Republican state Attorney General Rob McKenna lost to Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee, but McKenna was not an immigration enforcer by any means. For example, while enforcement activists have repeatedly tried to ban driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, McKenna campaigned on allowing them to keep driving privileges, albeit with an Utah-style driving card, not a regular driver’s license. Inslee is likely to veto any legislation that bans driver's licenses for illegal aliens.

There was some good news from Maricopa County, Arizona on election night. Enforcement champion Sheriff Joe Arpaio won re-election, much to the consternation of pro-illegal alien groups. Sheriff Joe took 53 percent of the votes - some 88,000 votes ahead of his main opponent Paul Penzone. Groups opposing Sheriff Joe raised money nationwide in an effort to defeat him but the voters denied them. This is a sweet victory against the same forces who organized Sen. Russell Pearce’s defeat.

VAN ESSER is the Manager of Member Services for NumbersUSA 

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