Victory in Motion to Dismiss

As we have written about before, Shahid Haque-Hausrath of the Border Crossing Law Firm, P.C. is representing the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance (“MIJA”) in a lawsuit to challenge Montana’s new anti-immigrant law called LR-121.  You can read all about the law and what it does here.

This week, Judge Sherlock  rejected the Montana Attorney General’s efforts to dismiss our lawsuit, and has ruled that the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance (MIJA) has standing to challenge LR-121 on behalf of its members, who have a reasonable fear that the law will be used to wrongly deny them benefits.

Over ten members of MIJA, all of whom were also represented by Shahid Haque-Hausrath in immigration proceedings, came forward to tell the court how they would be impacted by LR-121.  Despite protests from the Montana AG’s office, the court held that these MIJA members had reasonable fears that LR-121 could violate their rights, and thus can move forward with their legal challenge.

As reported in the Great Falls Tribune:

A district judge has ruled that a lawsuit aimed at blocking the implementation of a new immigration law can move forward.

The Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance is seeking to overturn LR 121, a voter-approved ballot initiative that requires proof of legal standing for any applicant for state services, employment with a state agency, issuance of a state license or permit, unemployment or disability benefits, enrollment as a student or student aid.

The law applies a definition of “illegal alien,” which attorneys for MIJA argue could unconstitutionally prevent certain legal citizens from receiving services from unemployment benefits to crime-victim assistance.

Lawyers for Attorney General Tim Fox’s office are defending the law in court. The state asked the court to dismiss the case on the grounds that the plaintiffs lack the legal standing to bring the lawsuit because the law had not yet been implemented or used.

District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock on Wednesday denied the state’s motion to dismiss. Sherlock said clients represented by MIJA, the lead plaintiff in the case, have reasonable fear that LR 121 could adversely affect them.

Eight documented immigrants signed affidavits in the case saying they came into the country illegally, but are now legal residents. Lawyers for MIJA said under LR 121 those individuals who are legally allowed to be in the United States could unfairly be denied state benefits or services based on the existing definition of “illegal alien” contained in the voter-approved ballot initiative.

“We view the judge’s decision as an unqualified victory for the plaintiffs,” MIJA attorney Shahid Haque-Hausrath said. “There’s now no further obstacle to determining the constitutionality of LR 121. We’re going to have the right to ask the state how they plan to implement the law, what training they plan to give to their employees who will be charged with making determinations under the law, and how they can possibly implement this law without violating the Montana and United State constitutions.”

The State has yet to explain how they can enforce this law without violating the Montana and U.S. Constitutions, and had sought to avoid answering these questions by simply dismissing the lawsuit. However, now that their argument has been rejected, the State must answer these important questions as we move forward.

You can download a copy of the Judge’s order here.