Immigrants and Latinos in Montana: What Does LR-121 Mean for You?

UPDATE:  We have prevailed in our lawsuit against LR-121, and it has been stricken down as unconstitutional!  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 information below is therefore no longer accurate.  However, we will keep the information as a record of what LR-121 sought to do before it was found unconstitutional.

This is a guide for immigrants and Latinos in Montana to understand how LR-121 will impact their lives.  On November 6, 2012, Montana passed a law called LR-121, which will deny some state services and benefits to anyone who cannot prove their citizenship or legal status.  The Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance (“MIJA”) has filed a lawsuit to challenge this law.  It is important to know what this law does, but also what it does not do.  Please do not panic.  This law is bad, but it is not the same as some of the laws you may have heard of in Arizona, Georgia, and Alabama.  Some of the differences are:

  • LR-121 does not allow police to arrest you just because of your immigration status, or pull you over to ask questions about your immigration status.
  • LR-121 does not create any new penalties or crimes for people who are working without authorization.
  • LR-121 does not make it a crime for anyone to assist or transport an undocumented immigrant.
  • LR-121 does not create more requirements for most employers to check the immigration status of employees.  (It only creates more requirements for people who want to work for the State of Montana.)
  • LR-121 does not stop landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants.
  • LR-121 does not void any contracts that are entered into with an undocumented immigrant.

These are some of the worst parts of the laws that were passed in other states, and we do not have those here in Montana.

So what does LR-121 actually do?  

  • LR-121 will require employees of the State of Montana check into your immigration status if you apply for certain types of state services or benefits, and deny these services if they cannot verify your immigration status.  If you are not applying for or using a state service or benefit, then this should not impact you.
  • If you are a citizen, you will have to show proof of your citizenship, like a naturalization certificate, birth certificate (if you were born in the U.S.), or U.S. passport.  If you are a Permanent Resident (in other words you have a “green card”) or you are on a valid temporary visa, then you will have to present the proof of your status.
  • If you don’t have those documents with you (or possibly even if you do have them), the State of Montana may check your information in a federal database to try and verify your status before they let you have the service or benefit you are asking for.  This is a federal database that does not contain information about U.S. citizens, and does not have complete information about every immigrant in the country, so it may not be  correct.
  • If they cannot confirm your immigration status, this law requires them to report you to immigration authorities.  They will call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), who may then investigate and try to determine if you are here legally.  If you do not have immigration status, they may arrest you and put you into deportation proceedings.

What Types of Services Will Be Denied?

Even though the law seems to say that all state services and benefits will be denied, that is not true.  The law only lists certain services or benefits that will be denied.  These are the most important ones:

  • Employment with a state agency.  Anyone who wants to work for the State of Montana will have to go through their verification process.
  • Attending any public college or university.  All students will have to prove their citizenship or immigration status to get admitted into a public college or university, like the University of Montana or Montana State University.  If you cannot prove your status, you will be denied admission even if you want to pay your own tuition. The law also says that undocumented students cannot get any financial assistance for college.
  • Getting a state license or permit to practice any trade or profession.  If you want to get licenses or permits for dozens of different professions, you will have to prove your citizenship or immigration status.  This includes everyone in this list, like electricians, landscape architects, barbers, nurses, social workers, counselors, therapists, accountants, attorneys, and real estate brokers.
  • Getting unemployment insurance benefits.  Anyone who wants to apply for unemployment insurance benefits if they lose their job  has to prove citizenship or immigration status.
  • Services for victims of crime.  Under Montana law, there is a Crime Victim Compensation fund to “help innocent crime victims with crime-related medical expenses.”  This includes “lost wages and medical and funeral expenses incurred as the result of personal injury crimes. These crimes include homicide, rape, domestic violence, stalking, assault, child sexual and physical abuse, and drunk driving.”  LR-121 now requires victims of crime to prove citizenship or immigration status before getting any benefits from this compensation fund.
  • Services for the physically disabled.  Certain services for disabled Montanans will be denied unless you can prove citizenship or immigration status.

Do Not Let Anyone Violate Your Rights!

LR-121 does not give anyone the right to racially-profile you.  If you are not applying for any of these state services or benefits, then this law does not allow anyone to ask you questions about your immigration status.  Please read this article on our website to know more about your rights when dealing with law enforcement, and know what to do if you are put in deportation proceedings.