State Challenges to Federal Enforcement of Immigration Law: From the Mid-1990s to the Present

Source: Kate M. Manuel, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report, R43839, August 1, 2016

States and localities can have significant interest in the manner and extent to which federal officials enforce provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) regarding the exclusion and removal of unauthorized aliens. Some states and localities, concerned that federal enforcement disrupts families and communities, or infringes upon human rights, have adopted “sanctuary” policies limiting their cooperation in federal efforts. Other states and localities, in contrast, concerned about the costs of providing benefits or services to unauthorized aliens, or such aliens settling in their communities, have adopted measures to deter unauthorized aliens from entering or remaining within their jurisdiction. In some cases, such states or localities have also sued to compel federal officials to enforce the immigration laws, or to compensate them for costs associated with unauthorized migration.

This report provides an overview of challenges by states to federal officials’ alleged failure to enforce the INA or other provisions of immigration law. It begins by discussing (1) the lawsuits filed by six states in the mid – 1990s; (2) Arizona’s counterclaims to th e federal government’s suit to enjoin enforcement of S.B. 1070; and (3) Mississippi’s challenge to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative. It then describes the challenge brought by over 25 states or state officials in December 2014 to the Obama Administration’s proposal to expand DACA and create a similar program for unauthorized aliens whose children are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent resident aliens (LPRs) (commonly known as DAPA.)