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Arizona-Style Immigration Bills Emerge in New State Legislative Sessions

Members of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance hold a news conference and rally at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., to protest a proposed immigration bill Jan. 12.AP

Buoyed by expanded majorities, Republicans at the state level are stepping up their push to pass Arizona-style immigration laws even as a federal court weighs whether to strike down the original legislation. 

Mississippi was the latest state to make gains on the issue, with the state House voting Thursday for a bill that would let officers check immigration status during traffic stops and other encounters. The bill passed the Senate last week, though it will probably be the subject of negotiation in the coming weeks as the chambers work out differences between the two versions. 

The action could signal an early wave of immigration bills moving through the state capitals in 2011. While Mississippi doesn't elect a new legislature until later this year, several other states that held elections in November are now watching their capitals become more conducive to such anti-illegal immigration measures as Republicans enter the legislature in greater numbers. 

Last year, six states tried and failed to pass immigration proposals similar to Arizona's, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. As those efforts sputtered, a federal District Court judge granted an injunction against some of the Arizona law's key measures -- that case is on appeal. 

But amid the uncertainty, the battle lines are once again being drawn in states from Indiana to Nebraska to Georgia. 

In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal made a pledge to enact an Arizona-style law as part of his campaign platform last year. State Rep. Matt Ramsey this past week gave Deal something to work with - a bill that would, like Arizona's, authorize local officers to enforce federal immigration law; require employers to verify the immigration status of their workers; and call for ID cards for applicants for public benefits. 

It's unclear whether Deal will get on board. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Deal's office is backing an expansion of the existing 287(g) program -- a federal-local partnership that empowers local law enforcement to enforce immigration law -- but reserving judgment on Ramsey's bill. 

Republicans, though, built their majorities in both chambers in the Georgia legislature last fall.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is another prominent Republican who campaigned on the immigration issue last year and, like Deal, is watching an Arizona-style proposal float around his state's legislature. The proposal by Rep. William Snyder is still being fleshed out and has generated heated controversy among top officials in the state. 

And in Indiana, where Republicans took back the House in November for total control of the state government, Republican Rep. Mike Delph has introduced an immigration bill which is set for a hearing Feb. 2 in Indianapolis. That proposal would require police to ask for proof of citizenship or immigration status if they have a reasonable suspicion that a person is illegally in the country. Plus it would require official state documents to be issued only in English in most cases. 

Another proposal emerged in the Nebraska legislature, drawing out hundreds of protesters Thursday to the steps of the state capitol building. 

Though the Arizona legislation was the spark for the latest set of bills, the movement reflects a growing willingness by state legislatures to take on the immigration issue by themselves over the past several years in the absence of federal action. 

According to NCSL, 300 immigration-related bills were introduced in 2005. In 2010, that number was 1,400 -- of them, 346 were adopted in the form of laws and resolutions. 

In Mississippi, opponents of the latest bill described it as too harsh. 

"The only reason the Senate passed that bill out was to help those people who are running for office, and that's wrong," said Democratic Rep. Willie Bailey, who voted against the bill because he believes immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility. 

But Republican Rep. Beckie Currie said she has no problem with people who follow proper procedures to immigrate to the U.S. 

"We're not making 'illegal' illegal," Currie said. "It was already illegal." 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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