State and Local Immigration Law Research

The Government Law Center studies state and local government's role in immigration law. The Center uses its research to create explainers, host academic events and provide expertise to media.

State Power Over Immigration Law - Anderson Series

Immigration 101

Continuing Legal Education Materials

This program gives an introductory overview of core topics in immigration law.  The panelists discuss the sources of immigration law; the various lawful statuses created by immigration law; the immigration process and immigration enforcement; how to apply for lawful status; and major current events.  The program is designed for those who have little or no current understanding of immigration law, but wish to better understand the immigration issues that confront practitioners and policymakers. 

Overview of the program and basics of immigration law (4:30)

Mary Armistead identifies the basic sources of immigration law and the agencies that implement it.

Immigration statuses (11:20)

Jon Lemelin and Michelle Lee survey the various kinds of immigration status, including "legal permanent resident," "nonimmigrant," and various humanitarian statuses like asylee or refugee.

The immigration process (30:20)

Mary Armistead discusses the processes by which people apply for statuses, as well as inadmissibility and deportability, i.e., what makes a person ineligible for various statuses and how statuses can be taken away.

Immigration enforcement (50:20)

Michelle Lee and Mary Armistead give an overview of immigration enforcement, including states' role in immigration enforcement, how the immigration system overlaps with the criminal justice system, and procedures for deportation ("removal").

Obtaining lawful status (1:00:10)

Isabelle Thacker explains how to seek lawful status (visas or other documents that authorize presence in the United States) on the basis of employment; the diversity lottery; family connections; or humanitarian needs. 

Current events (1:27:10)

Ava Ayers surveys recent developments in the headlines, including family separation and new restrictive procedures that apply at the border; responses to the Covid-19 crisis; and New York's Green Light Law, which allows undocumented people to receive driver's licenses.

Media Appearances

    • Ava Ayers Interviewed by Solomon Syed in a Spectrum News Video on the legal aspects of the citizenship question removed from the 2020 census. (Spectrum News | August 11, 2019) 
    • Spoke with Dave Lucas of WAMC's Midday Magazine for the segment "Sanctuary City Measure Has Divided Some Troy Officials" (WAMC I December 4, 2018)
    • Talked with Luke Stoddard Nathan for the article Sanctuary City Article Tabled in Issue 13 of The Troy Letter; that article also highlighted the GLC's "Sanctuary Jurisdictions" Explainer informing government officials and citizens about legal aspects to consider before taking official action on sanctuary status  (The Troy Letter I December 7, 2018).
    •  Joined the syndicated program "Empire State Weekly" with Tim Lake for a segment aired across New York State, including locally on NEWS 10 ABC (Empire State Weekly I December 8 and 9, 2018).
    • Appeared as a guest on WNYT News Channel 13 with Asa Stackel for the one-on-one segment "Defining a 'Sanctuary City'" (WNYT News Channel 13 I December 13, 2018).
    •  Joined Spectrum News's "In Focus" with Solomon Syed for the segment "What Does It Mean to Be a Sanctuary City?" (Spectrum News I December 16, 2018).
    • Appeared as a guest on WGY's "Upstate Issues" with Diane Donato to discuss the legal landscapes of sanctuary cities for an interview aired on The River 99.5, 102.3 Kiss FM, Oldies 98.3, Fox Sports 980 and PYX 106, and on News Radio 810 and 103.1 WGY; this interview and featured in a two-part podcast Capital Region Cities Grapple with Legalities of Sanctuary, Part 1 and Part 2 (create an account to listen to podcasts) (WGY I December 20, 2018).
    • Ava Ayers and Barbara Weiner: State Power Over Immigration Law (Capital Pressroom | April 3, 2018)
      Government Law Center Director Ava Ayers and Barbara Weiner, Attorney Emeritus at the Empire Justice Center, joined Susan Arbetter on the Capitol Pressroom after the GLC's Anderson Breakfast Series panel on April 3, 2018, to explain significant ways in which states and local governments can have an impact on immigration law and policy.

      Ayers points out how states and municipalities engage extensively with federal law enforcement through sanctuary city conversations and how local law enforcement bodies can respond to ICE in a variety of ways, including actively resisting, remaining neutral, and actively assisting. States have immense power to influence the daily lives of immigrants, for example by increasing protections for immigrant children separated from their families and through lawsuits filed against the federal government on immigration issues.

      Weiner welcomes the State's proactive stance in providing public benefits in places where the federal government has stepped back because of the positive impact this has on the safety and economic vitality of families and communities. Immigrants contribute to shared resources, for example by paying taxes and helping stem population loss, currently a huge concern in Upstate New York. Immigrant victims of crimes can be fearful of reporting the incidents to law enforcement, making us all less safe.

      Click here for a summary of the GLC's Anderson Breakfast Series panel discussion on this topic

      Click here to see the GLC's Explainers on Immigration Law and Policy

    • Albany's Police Chief Insists City is Complying with Immigration Law (NewsChannel 13 | Jan. 25, 2018)

      • Ava Ayers, the Director of the Government Law Center at Albany Law School, has a few ideas [on why the city of Albany was one of 23 municipalities in the state to receive a letter from the DOJ this week requesting documents showing whether their law enforcement official are restricting information sharing with federal immigration].

        "One is because they think there might in fact be more information that hasn't already been provided," Ayers said. "And the other is to put pressure on cities that identify themselves as sanctuaries."

    • Local Salvadorians Seek Options After End of TPS (Albany Times Union | Jan. 14, 2018)
      • "If you're somebody who's on TPS [temporary protective status] right now and lucky enough to have a lawyer you can talk to, you should be talking to them about other statuses you can apply for," said Ava Ayers, professor and director at Albany Law School. "But TPS is one of the less desirable forms of status, so if somebody had another basis my guess is they already would have been applying for it."
    • Albany Stands Firm on Sanctuary City Status (Albany Times Union | Jan. 9, 2018)
      • "All of this is very much a gray area because nobody has tried it before," said Ava Ayers, an Albany Law School director and professor. "Federal government cannot compel states, or localities, to implement a federal government program."

        Ayers said this argument was tested when it came to background checks for firearms. It was determined a federal law can't be passed saying state officials must perform background checks, because the state is a separate entity, he said.

        "The federal government can't tell state law enforcement to inquire about people's immigration status, report back to the feds about immigration status," Ayers said. "That would be like deputizing state officials against their will."
    • Albany Law Holds Symposium on Sanctuary Cities (Albany Times Union | Nov. 10, 2017)
      • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​"[The specific legalities of sanctuary cities is] an issue that one needs to be a lawyer to fully understand," Albany Law School director and professor Ava Ayers said, "and I doubt very much if there's any lawyer in the world who would claim to understand it because of how complicated everything gets when you start talking about how immigration law overlaps with other kinds of law."
    • Sanctuary Cities Forum Tonight at Albany Law (WAMC | Nov. 9, 2017)
      • ​​​​​​​Albany Law Professor Ava Ayers is moderating the talk [on sanctuary cities]. "I think a lot of people don't know what the term [sanctuary city] means because there really is no agreed on meaning for the term. It can mean detaining or not detaining non-citizens. It can mean cooperating with federal enforcement authorities. It can mean providing some sort of affirmative support to immigrants, like providing lawyers for people who are facing deportation, or sometimes it can just be a moral statement: you declare yourself a sanctuary jurisdiction because you want to send a message, so it can mean all of that and more."