2020 State Immigration Legislation in Review*

Last Updated

November 3, 2020

This year, lawmakers in 46 states and the District of Columbia convened for a legislative session. As in previous years, immigration issues were a priority for many legislators. CLINIC tracked 494 pieces of legislation between January and October in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Close to 65 bills and resolutions have been adopted or signed by the governors. A total of 222 proposed bills had died by July 31, while the remaining bills continued through the legislative process. North Dakota, Nevada, Montana and Texas were not in regular session. Nevada, along with about 20 other states, held a special session. This report summarizes key measures addressed during the session.

Legislation Impacting COVID-19

This legislative session, lawmakers had to factor in COVID-19, as they went about passing legislation and regulations. We saw the impact of this in various states:

  • Maryland passed HB 1420 — a medical bill that states a patient’s citizenship or immigration status may not be used as an eligibility requirement for financial assistance, which went into effect on Oct. 1, 2020.
  • Although not signed by the governor, Utah went forward with SCR 8 which, in response to misinformation about the coronavirus’ origins and efforts to contain its spread, expresses support for the people in China and throughout the world who are affected by the pandemic and recognizes the inherent value and contributions of those of Chinese descent living in Utah.
  • The District of Columbia enacted emergency act 823, "Standby Guardian Emergency Amendment Act of 2020," expanding the existing standby guardianship law to enable a parent, legal guardian, or legal custodian who is, or may be, subject to an adverse immigration action or who has been exposed to COVID-19, to make short term plans for a child without terminating or limiting that person’s parental or custodial rights.
  • Vermont passed HB 965 to provide grants to community organizations who work with certain populations most likely to experience adverse outcomes from the pandemic, based on factors including immigrant status, race and ethnicity among others. Vermont’s House Health Care Committee adopted HR 15 urging that during the pandemic, the federal government refrain from arresting or detaining individuals based on their immigration status in any healthcare setting and suspend implementation of inadmissibility based on the Public Charge Grounds Rule.

For more information and resources related to COVID-19, please visit: cliniclegal.org/covid-19.

Sanctuary City Policies

Twelve states considered 21 pieces of legislation that addressed the ability of multiple localities to adopt policies to limit local officials’ participation in federal immigration enforcement activities. Seventeen of the pieces of legislation were anti-immigrant. No legislation was passed on sanctuary city policies as most of the states had to turn resources and attention to addressing coronavirus. None of the pieces of legislation were enacted to date. Michigan lawmakers, still in session, proposed anti-immigrant bill SB 382, which would create a County Sanctuary Policy Prohibition Act.

Law Enforcement

CLINIC tracked 61 bills in 23 states that addressed local police participation in federal immigration enforcement. The District of Columbia, on an emergency basis which lasted until April 25, 2020, passed “Sanctuary Values Congressional Review Emergency Amendment Act of 2020” to limit the District’s cooperation with federal immigration agencies, including by complying with detainer requests, absent a judicial warrant or order. Virginia enacted HB 1150 requiring a clerk of the court to report a juvenile to ICE when there is evidence that the juvenile is not in the U.S. legally, and that juvenile has had an adjudication or conviction of guilt for a violent juvenile felony.

Washington State passed House Bill 2567 that was signed into law on March 18, 2020. Immigration officials had previously detained immigrants in civil courts, sparking fears among the immigrant community. This law attempts to allay those fears by limiting the civil court’s collection of immigration and citizenship data. It also prohibits disclosure of such information to federal immigration authorities (defined as any officer, employee or person otherwise paid by or acting as an agent of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, including but not limited to its sub agencies, ICE, Customs and Border Protection, and any present or future divisions thereof, charged with immigration enforcement) unless required by federal law or court order. Furthermore, the court must collect information about any law enforcement officer entering the court, and the purpose of that visit — unless the individual is participating in a case or proceeding before the court. Civil arrests are not allowed inside the court unless specifically demanded by a court order or in other situations mandated by law or public safety.

Other legislation was put forward that would limit local police cooperation with immigration. Massachusetts proposed SB 1401, otherwise known as the “Safe Communities Act” as well as HB 3573. These bills disallow law enforcement from questioning victims or witnesses about their immigration status, unless required by state or local law. They would effectively do away with 287(g) agreements in the state as it prohibits any officer, employee of the department of corrections, the state police, any sheriff’s department, or any city or town police department from performing the functions of an immigration officer. The bill was advanced by the joint committee of Public Safety and Homeland Security — a place where this bill had previously stalled and is now before the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

The New York legislature also put forth bill SB 7562 to try and limit questioning and disclosure of immigration status from police officers, peace officers, school resource officers, probation agencies, state agencies, state employees and municipal corporations. New Jersey, under bill SB 1589, would prohibit correctional facilities from detaining persons pursuant to agreement with federal immigration authorities.

U Visa Certification

Seven states proposed legislation relating to certifying USCIS Form I-918 Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification, which would increase trust between the immigrant community and law enforcement and would encourage immigrants to report the more serious crimes. These bills would require certification when immigrants are helpful in reporting, investigating and prosecuting these crimes, and would provide a timeline in which the certification needs to occur. Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Minnesota proposed legislation but were unable to progress once their sessions were adjourned. Both Nebraska (LB 518) and Utah (HB 298) enacted such legislation, giving certifiers 90 days in which to complete certification. Utah added a provision that for those individuals in removal proceedings, the turnaround time would be shortened to 14 days. The laws also require Nebraska and Utah law enforcement agencies to track the number of requests received, the number that were signed, and the number that were denied. Nebraska included that in the case of a denial, the reason for said denial also needs to be tracked and kept on record for three years. Whereas Nebraska’s process is meant to be internal, Utah’s requires that the record be given each year to the State Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice starting June 30, 2021. That information, in turn, will be sent to the Judiciary Interim Committee of the Legislature on or before November 30th of each year.


Legislators in 18 states proposed at least 28 bills concerning the employment of noncitizen workers. Twenty of those bills were anti-immigrant, focusing on banning employers from hiring unauthorized workers. Florida passed such legislation with SB 664, which requires public employers, contractors and subcontractors to register and use E-Verify. Last year, lawmakers in Pennsylvania passed HB 1170 — requiring construction industry employees to be verified for work eligibility through the federal E-Verify system and prohibiting the employment of unauthorized employees. The law came into effect on Oct. 6, 2020.


This year, 17 states either enacted or put forth 36 pieces of legislation that addressed tuition equity for immigrants. Most of the proposed bills aimed to allow noncitizens to pay in-state tuition at public universities and colleges, or to give them access to state financial assistance. Virginia enacted two bills relating to education: HB 1315 and HB 1179. The first prohibits any student at a public institution of higher education from being deemed ineligible to establish domicile and receive in state tuition charges solely on the basis of the immigration status of their parent. The latter allows those admitted to the United States as a refugee or having a Special Immigrant Visa to qualify for in-state tuition if they are eligible.

Driver’s Licenses

16 bills were introduced regarding providing driver’s licenses (or a relative equivalent) to immigrants. Virginia — in keeping with most of the pro-immigrant legislation it passed this session — created driver privilege cards and permits for applicants who do not meet the requirements for a driver’s license or permit through HB 1211. The driver privilege cards confer the same privileges and are subject to the same provisions as driver’s licenses and permits. Virginians will be eligible for the driver privilege cards starting Jan. 1, 2021.

Professional Licenses

Most recently, on Sept. 1, New Jersey’s governor signed into law SB 2455 which prohibits lawful presence as qualification for obtaining professional or occupational license. This removes the barriers to hundreds of thousands of people in that state who can now practice in their field (provided they meet the other requirements). Earlier in the year, New Mexico enacted a similar bill, SB 137, allowing occupational or professional licensure regardless of the person’s immigration status. Virginia’s governor approved HB 1121, allowing a massage therapist who completed a massage therapy educational program in a foreign country, may apply for licensure. Illinois passed SB 1166, a pro-immigrant licensing law allowing a person lawfully admitted for permanent resident to qualify for licensure under various state acts.


At least 11 states considered 33 resolutions that addressed various immigration issues. California lawmakers adopted joint resolution ACR 1, urging the federal government to repeal the public charge inadmissibility regulations. California also adopted AJR 9 calling on Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to cease unlawful detention of undocumented immigrants, to end their raids, and to adopt a standard uniform for its officers that clearly identifies them as ICE instead of trying to trick immigrants by wearing police uniforms. A third resolution from California that was adopted, AJR 11, urges the President and Congress of the United States to provide permanent residency to immigrant youths as well as individuals with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and Temporary Protected Status, or TPS. Illinois adopted a similar resolution. Georgian lawmakers adopted HR 1079, recognizing and commending the efforts and contributions of the refugee community in Georgia.

Although other resolutions were proposed opposing the use of the citizenship question on the census, calling for oversight of ICE and its activities, demanding immigration to stop the increase of naturalization fees, asking for the Dream Act to be passed, urging the President to continue the federal Deferred Enforcement Departure for Liberians, and requesting non-citizen veteran protection, none of these were adopted.

*Referencing state immigration legislation CLINIC tracked between January and September. Prepared by State and Local Advocacy Attorney, Viviana Westbrook. 11/3/2020