When you think of states embroiled in deep controversies relating to their large immigrant populations, Montana isn’t the first one to come to mind. Perhaps this is because Montana has one of the smallest percentages of foreign-born residents in the entire United States.
This hasn’t stopped Montana legislators from proposing twenty-six different bills this legislative session that are intended to regulate immigration – a field traditionally occupied, and in many cases preempted, by federal law.
At least four of the proposed bills have text available for review. Gary L. Perry of Manhattan, Montana has sponsored three of these bills (LC0557, LC0558, and LC0560), and David Howard has sponsored one of them (LC1909). Each of these bills threaten to create serious and lasting divisions that would segregate and disenfranchise members of our immigrant communities. Over the next few days, I will be discussing each of these proposed bills.
LC0558, which is sponsored by Gary L. Perry, would make it a misdemeanor or felony to transport, move, conceal, harbor, or shield any alien that you know to be undocumented. It would also make it a misdemeanor or felony to encourage an undocumented alien to enter or remain in the state without status. The bill would also provide for forfeiture of property belonging to anyone convicted of any of those offenses.
The intent of this legislation is to deter legal residents from interacting with individuals who they might know or suspect to be an undocumented alien, for fear of being subjected to criminal penalties and forfeiture of property. The undocumented immigrants living in Montana are already marginalized and victimized by those who prey upon their inability to report abuses to the authorities. This legislation would only make matters worse by making legal residents more unwilling to come to the assistance of their immigrant neighbors.
This bill is modeled after the pre-existing federal statute at 8 U.S.C. § 1324. In other words, this is already federal law, and is being enforced by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Mr. Perry apparently doesn’t believe the federal government is doing a good enough job and wants to expend state money and resources to enforce these laws as well.
Besides being a waste of our taxpayer dollars and limited law enforcement resources, this legislation is pre-empted by federal law. The federal government has created a comprehensive scheme for enforcement of such immigration penalties, and states may not enter the field and impose their own regulations and penalties.
It is also worth noting that the proposed legislation changes the language of the federal legislation it is modeled after, and creates a presumption that an alien is undocumented as along as the “United States government” says so. Of course, the United States government is comprised of many different agencies, most of which have no authority to determine the immigration status of an individual.
Perhaps this broad language is intended to allow the Social Security Administration to determine an immigrant’s status simply by running the individual’s social security number through their system. This concept has been unilaterally rejected by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, because it is highly inaccurate and unreliable.
I urge each and every reader to inform their local representatives that they oppose this legislation, and any other attempt by the state to regulate immigration.
Efforts such as these are not productive in reducing undocumented immigration, but only serve to further disenfranchise our immigrant populations, many of whom are already heavily segregated from our communities.
Posts analyzing the other anti-immigrant bills being proposed this legislative session will be forthcoming.