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Over the last decade states passed hundreds of immigration bills covering a range of policy areas. This article considers the recent state legislative surge against scholarly treatments of immigration federalism, and identifies the symbolic politics in state lawmaking. The analysis combines a historical treatment of key court decisions that delineated boundaries of state and federal immigration roles with a legislative analysis of over 2200 immigration bills passed between 2006 and 2013, to identify the numerous ways in which national immigration policy shapes state measures. It argues that recent laws must be considered against symbolic federalism which privileges state sovereignty and justifies social policy devolution by advancing frames of intergovernmental conflict, state-level policy pragmatism, and federal ineffectiveness.


This article originally appeared in Laws, available at DOI: 10.3390/laws4040729

© 2015 by the author. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license (



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