ILRC Analysis: State Governments Dominate Federal Immigration Enforcement Policy

(San Francisco, CA)—An analysis by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) shows that state laws on immigration enforcement vary dramatically, and that this has major impacts on national immigration policy and the lives of immigrants in the U.S. 

“In recent years, we have seen how sanctuary policies have become a political narrative between lawmakers seeking to protect the rights of immigrants and communities of color and those who oppose them,” said ILRC Senior Staff Attorney Lena Graber. “Because the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is constantly pushing state law enforcement agencies to be the front gate of immigration enforcement, the results for immigrants living in some states is one of constant discrimination and abuse. Just look at the damage Operation Lone Star is doing in Texas.” 

The analysis and map paint a stark picture of what immigration policy will look like if the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear arguments in December, decides that DHS does not have authority under immigration laws to set out enforcement priorities.  

“If DHS is not setting priorities and limitations for ICE, it means that state laws will be the primary definers of immigration enforcement policy,” Graber said. You can see on the map just how prevalent anti-immigrant laws are in states led by conservative lawmakers, which is not a surprise. What is troubling is how some states with Democratic majorities are continuing to struggle to implement humane and compassionate immigration policies and laws. And even in states with no immigration statutes, there is constant pressure to make decisions on immigration enforcement on a day-to-day basis.” 

The map only hints at the reality for immigrant communities under these different state laws: 

“Texas has been the key battleground state of anti-immigrant sentiment and rogue immigration enforcement in recent years. We have seen how SB4, the state statute mandating immigration enforcement, as well as Governor Abbott’s emergency declaration, Operation Lone Star, and the court challenges to DACA, Title 42, and MPP have solidified Texas as the supreme state of immigration enforcement. Governor Abbott’s obsession with immigration illustrates how other conservative states might emulate Texas’ enforcement tactics beyond anti-sanctuary statutes. The entire southern border of Texas has become the temporary home to thousands of State Troopers and National Guardsmen, despite the already overbearing presence of Border Patrol, County Sheriff's deputies, and local law enforcement in our communities. This constant presence of federal and state law enforcement in border communities only serves to racially target and persecute the people who live here.” - Uziel Araiza, Laredo Immigrant Alliance  

“Despite our reputation as a progressive state, New York has insufficient protections for its immigrant community, one of the largest in the country. While state law prohibits ICE from arresting people at courthouses, there is nothing on the books that prevents state employees from working with ICE to deport community members. That is exactly what happens in many parts of the state, where people are afraid to participate in public life and are subject to racial profiling and harassment by local law enforcement. We are also seeing new local agreements to work with ICE at our northern border. With a democratic Governor, Senate, and Assembly, there is no excuse to hesitate any longer to pass statewide protections such as the New York for All Act, which would prohibit the use of local and state resources for immigration enforcement.” – Jane Shim, Immigrant Defense Project 

“In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has enacted several anti-immigrant policies, including SB 168 that banned local sanctuary city policies. Immigrants’ rights groups fought back and a federal court enjoined several parts of the law, but in 2022 the Florida legislature passed SB 1808. The new law requires every county to enter into a 287(g) agreement and further targets services that unaccompanied minors and immigrant families rely upon. And, the Florida Supreme Court recently empaneled a grand jury at the Governor's request that further threatens immigrant communities. Without intervention, these draconian and authoritarian tactics could spread across the country.” - Alana Greer, Community Justice Project  

“Communities across the West Coast have united in protecting our people from the rampant, racist, xenophobic immigration enforcement machine by passing progressive state legislation. We believe it is up to the States to protect their residents and create livable conditions for all, regardless of immigration status. As immigrant communities we refuse to continue being used as political pawns. ILRC’s map and analysis of states’ response to the criminalization of our immigrant communities shows that in the West Coast we still have a long way to go, and we will continue to oppose federal authorities targeting us and using our communities for their political and economic gains.” – West Coast Immigrant Network (WIN)  


The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) is a national nonprofit that works with immigrants, community organizations, legal professionals, and policy makers to build a democratic society that values diversity and the rights of all people. Through community education programs, legal training & technical assistance, and policy development & advocacy, the ILRC works to protect and defend the fundamental rights of immigrant families and communities. Follow us at, and on Twitter and Instagram @the_ILRC