Those fighting illegal immigration contend that taxpayers shouldn't support people in the state illegally, and that local police should be able to detain and arrest them. (Local police usually defer to federal authorities because they don't want to alienate immigrant communities.) They also argue that the federal government has been lax in going after companies that hire illegal immigrants to avoid paying higher wages to legal residents.
Some advocacy groups argue that the anti-immigrant legislation is tinged with racism and largely for show. They note that many state proposals never pass the Legislature; those that pass often get vetoed or overturned by the courts for intruding into federal law.
"These bills are introduced, oftentimes, as messages to congressional members to act on immigration," said Flavia Jimenez, an analyst at the National Council of La Raza in Washington. Jimenez said many of the legislators "know the bills will not go anywhere."
Last year, 75 bills aimed at denying services to illegal immigrants were defeated in various state legislatures, and only a handful became law, according to an analysis by the National Immigrant Law Center in Los Angeles. Marielena Hincapie, director of programs at the center, said she expected a similar dynamic this year.
She noted that such legislation, even if defeated, could benefit their authors this fall: "I'm sure the bills that will be introduced this year will be used prominently in the elections."
In Minnesota, Democrats have accused Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is up for reelection, of playing politics with illegal immigration. Pawlenty commissioned a study last year that found illegal immigration cost the state $180 million annually. He is proposing a state team to work with the federal government to deport illegal immigrants, as well as tougher penalties for false identification.
Pawlenty has been crisscrossing Minnesota to drum up support for his proposals. He said he was not trying to politicize the issue, adding that he had pushed anti-illegal immigrant measures since taking office in 2002.
"You have to be living under a rock to not see and feel and hear growing concerns about illegal immigration," he said. "If the public is concerned about something, and we're public officials, responding to a public concern is our responsibility."
Though most recent hard-line proposals have come from Republicans, the issue isn't always defined by party affiliation. Last year, the Democrats who control Colorado's Legislature blocked Republican bills to deny benefits to illegal immigrants. This year Republicans are proposing several other anti-illegal immigrant bills that face stiff opposition. Meanwhile, former Gov. Richard Lamm, a Democrat, is backing a ballot initiative that would deny benefits to undocumented workers.
In Oklahoma, Republican legislators also want to bar illegal immigrants from receiving state benefits or medical care. Tom Adelson, Democratic chairman of the state Senate's healthcare committee, has vowed to fight the effort. But he has his own proposal to fine employers of illegal immigrants and revoke their state charter, which would take away their right to defend themselves in court.
Adelson said that he would not tolerate women and children being shut out of medical care, but that something had to be done to stop the erosion of good jobs in his state.
"Let's not go after the people who came here to improve their way of life," Adelson said. "Let's go after the companies that are importing masses of disenfranchised people" to avoid paying higher wages.
Some states are considering novel legal tactics.
In New Hampshire, which has one of the smallest Latino populations in the country, two sheriffs last year began arresting illegal immigrants, reasoning that their presence violated state laws against criminal trespass. Immigrant rights groups sued and had the prosecution invalidated. In response to that ruling, Republican legislators are pushing a bill that would enable the state to invoke trespass laws against illegal immigrants, and states such as South Carolina have inquired about the approach.
Trasvina, of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which sued to block the New Hampshire trespass effort and is fighting many of the new proposals across the country, said many were misguided piecemeal approaches to a national problem that could only be fixed by Congress.
"We can try to put out all these fires in all these local communities," he said, "but if Congress and the president step forward and introduce some comprehensive reform, that'll deal with it all at once."
Times staff writer Robert Salladay in Sacramento contributed to this report.