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States mull illegal immigrant legislation

MIAMI -- Nearly every state in the union tried to tackle immigration on its own this year in the absence of any congressional movement on the matter, and more than half considered Arizona-style enforcement measures, up from just six in 2010.

An Associated Press review found that in legislature after legislature, nearly all the most punitive measures failed.

What had passed as of yesterday mostly reinforced current federal law, though a small number of states actually passed legislation that was helpful to illegal immigrants.

Many measures were set aside as lawmakers focused on budget crises, but immigrants have also developed more sophisticated lobbying efforts, and business owners came out against tough sanctions. Some worried about losing sources of labor and gaining extra paperwork. Others feared tourism boycotts like one organized in Arizona.

Early in the year, high unemployment, a slew of newly Republican-dominated legislatures and frustration over the failure by the White House or Congress to address the problem suggested Arizona's law would be copied.

That law makes it a state crime for an illegal immigrant to work, penalizes those who hire them and encourages local authorities to turn over illegal immigrants to federal authorities, among other measures. An appellate court has blocked provisions that require immigrants to carry visa documents and allow police broad leeway to question peoples' immigration status.

Louisiana State Rep. Joe Harrison, a Republican, said federal inaction prompted his interest in state laws on immigration. But his bill has yet to move out of committee, and most of the others failed, as did most of the proposals requiring businesses to use the federal government's electronic E-verify system to check the eligibility of new hires.

So far, only Georgia and Utah have passed comprehensive bills. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued Utah over enforcement provisions in its law to allow illegal immigrants to work in the state.

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