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Policy Innovation or Vertical Integration? A View of Immigration Federalism from the States


Lina Newton, Political Science Department, Hunter College, CUNY, 695 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10065, USA. Telephone: (212) 772-5500, Fax: (212) 650-3669; E-mail:


Since 2005, state legislatures have passed hundreds of immigration bills, and state officials have argued that their efforts attempt to solve immigration crises caused by federal inaction. The state–federal clash over immigration seems to confirm scholarship suggesting deepening lines of conflict in the federal system since the 1990s. The question remains, however, whether this explosion in state immigration laws signifies a move by states to tailor their own solutions to immigration issues. This article explores whether states are serving as laboratories of innovation for immigration policy. The study analyzes over five hundred immigration bills passed between January 2006 and December 2008, and engages in a comparative analysis of three immigration policy areas (immigration law enforcement, employment regulations, and drivers' licenses) where there exist varying degrees of state autonomy from national policy and thus distinctive possibilities for states to offer creative approaches to immigration issues. The findings suggest little evidence of policy innovation at the state level, although a handful of states are challenging federal supremacy in immigration matters.