WASHINGTON -- Despite recent national attention on laws such as the Arizona legislation aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants, a study released Monday by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars shows that across the country, more laws expanding immigrants' rights are enacted than those contracting them.
The study, Context Matters: Latino Immigrant Civic Engagement in Nine U.S. Cities, found that areas long accustomed to an influx of immigrants tend to focus more on trying to accommodate them rather than restrict them.
"The reality is that they're here already, so most cities and counties are trying to figure out how they can best incorporate these immigrants," said Andrew Selee, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center Mexico Institute and a co-author of the report. In states such as Texas, California and Illinois, he said, "There is a sense that immigrants are a productive part of society."
In an analysis of 1,059 immigration-related bills in 50 state legislatures in 2007, 19 percent of 313 bills expanding immigrant rights were enacted, while 11 percent of 263 bills contracting rights were enacted, the report said.
Bills contracting immigrant rights included those such as one approved that year in Prince William County, Va., allowing police officers to check people's immigration status if they had probable cause to believe they were in the United States illegally; the bill was later amended to require a status check for all arrestees.
Bills expanding immigrant rights included a measure in New York that eliminated citizenship requirements for occupations such as police officer, firefighter and teacher; a Texas bill making it an offense to obtain labor or services by threatening to report someone to immigration; and a Nevada bill creating crimes and penalties around involuntary servitude and human trafficking, said Xochitl Bada, an assistant professor in Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a co-author of the report.
The number of immigrant-related bills introduced overall has soared in recent years, she added, from 300 in 2005 to 1,500 last year.
The Washington region, one of nine metropolitan areas the report studied, takes a broad range of approaches to immigrants, from more restrictive ordinances in places such as Prince William and Loudoun counties in Virginia to more accommodating laws in such places as Arlington, Va., and Montgomery County, Md.
The Washington pattern echoed the report's findings that areas with longer histories of immigration are more accommodating and that the same metropolitan area can have vastly divergent approaches to immigrants.
Often, a city's suburban areas have had immigrants move in more recently and are more inclined to introduce restrictive laws, while the center of a city may be more accustomed to them and have an infrastructure and social services designed to accommodate them, Selee said, citing Chicago as an example.