Research Project

Filindra, Alexandra

State-Level Immigration Bills Database Construction, 1990-2016

Principal Investigator
Filindra, Alexandra
Funding Source
Russel Sage Foundation


The American states have been involved in immigrant integration since the 19thcentury (Tichenor 2002, Tichenor and Filindra 2013). In recent decades, their involvement and responsibilities have increased as a result of devolutionary pressures and federal inability to reform the system of immigrant admissions.  As a result, states have become more involved in both integration and immigration control policies and there are voices that argue for additional state involvement, especially in immigration enforcement (Kobach 2004, 2005,2007). Given the increased involvement of state authorities in defining the rights and privileges of non-citizens, it is important to understand both the devolutionary paths that enabled a variety of state actions and the variation in state responses to the challenges associated with immigration.

The goal of this research is to examine the drivers of introduction, sponsorship and enactment of immigration-related legislation at the state level. To achieve our research objectives, we seek to finalize a new longitudinal database of state immigration-related bills that covers the period between 1990 and 2014.  This new dataset will enable us to investigate questions of federalism but also questions related to state policymaking, policy innovation and policy diffusion. The inclusion of 23-25 years of data allows us to trace the process through which policy innovations at the federal level (e.g., IRCA, IIRIRA, PRWORA, REAL ID Act, PATRIOT Act, etc.) have led to various state policy responses.  The dataset will allow us to identify and separately code elements of bills in terms of the policy domains they touch upon and their effects on immigrant populations. It also will allow us to isolate specific policy domains for more in-depth study, explore the drivers of state-level policy outcomes over 24 years and further investigate the complex inter-relationship between state governments and the federal government. Using the finalized database, we will be able to tie these policy responses to the demographic, social, political and economic conditions within the state.

A second database that we have begun to develop contains demographic information on state legislators since 1990. Incorporating the legislator dataset will allow us to investigate the relationship between the political and demographic profile of legislators and the introduction and passage of state immigration legislation. The inclusion of legislator data also allows us to tackle questions related to descriptive representation.  Research suggests that minority and female legislators promote different policies than white male legislators and that these groups are better able to fend off policy backlash and block offensive legislation (Filindra and Pearson-Merkowitz 2013, Grose, Mangum, and Martin 2007, Leal, Martinez-Ebers, and Meier 2004,Mansbridge 1999,Pantoja and Segura 2003,Preuhs 2007).  A second important question is that of legislative effectiveness: taking into account the characteristics of the state, our new data will allow us to assess which types of legislators are better able to move immigration-related legislation across stages and which types are more likely to have their proposals enacted.

The underlying motivation for this project is to better understand why and how state legislatures attempt to incorporate and/or exclude new immigrant groups within their borders, and the characteristics of the legislators who are more likely 1) to get involved in this endeavor, and 2) to turn proposals into law.