On Friday, Judge Jeffrey Sherlock of the First Judicial District Court struck down the vast majority of Montana’s voter-approved law requiring state agencies to determine an applicant’s citizenship or immigration status before granting a wide variety of state services. The decision can be downloaded here. The law would have required denial of unemployment insurance benefits, licenses to practice trades or professions, enrollment in state universities, crime victim services, and infant hearing screenings to those who cannot prove their citizenship or immigration status.
The referendum, which was presented to Montana voters in the November 2012 election, passed with almost 80 percent of the vote. Before the law went into effect, the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance (“MIJA”) brought a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.
Shahid Haque-Hausrath, the President of the organization and an immigration attorney with the Border Crossing Law Firm, served as MIJA’s lead attorney in the lawsuit. The Montana Attorney General’s office defended the law, with former Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke serving as lead counsel on the case.
Judge Sherlock ruled in MIJA’s favor, holding that the mandates upon state agencies to determine immigration status, and deny a wide variety of state services to “illegal aliens,” are preempted by federal law as an impermissible regulation of immigration.
“This law was intended to make the state of Montana an unwelcoming place for immigrants. Striking down this law is a significant victory, and a message that the state has no business trying to regulate federal immigration policy,” Mr. Haque-Hausrath said. “In this ruling, the court has prevented the state from engaging in misguided efforts to enforce federal immigration laws, which the state is neither qualified nor authorized to do.”
This law would have placed added burdens on all Montanans to prove citizenship, but would have especially burdened immigrants.
The only provision of the law that was allowed to stand is one that partially corresponds to federal law, and permits communication between state employees and the federal government regarding a person’s immigration status. “Without the right to deny state services based on a determination that an applicant is unlawfully remaining in the country, this provision should not be significant. Now that state agencies are not required to check into immigration status, they should have nothing to report to the federal government,” Haque-Hausrath said.
Judge Sherlock had previously granted a partial preliminary junction in March 2013, and had denied two separate motions brought by the state to dismiss the lawsuit.
Brian Miller of Morrison, Sherwood, Wilson & Deola, PLLP served as co-counsel in this litigation, providing invaluable litigation support on a pro bono basis.
Copies of the ruling, as well as other materials, can be downloaded here: www.mija.org