Victory: Firm Prevails in Challenge to Montana Anti-Immigrant Law!

June 23, 2014Shahid Haque

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, 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 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 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.

Client Sexually Assaulted in Immigration Detention in Montana

May 14, 2014Shahid Haque

As an immigration attorney and President of the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance (“MIJA”), Shahid Haque is representing and advocating for Audemio Orozco-Ramirez, who was the victim of a sexual assault while in immigration detention in Montana. Audemio courageously shared his story the Great Falls Tribune.

Audemio was attacked and raped in his sleep during his first night in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody at the Jefferson County Jail in Boulder, Montana. It took two days before he found a law enforcement officer he could trust to ask for help. When Audemio reported the rape, ICE officers handcuffed him and forced him to participate in an interview without his lawyer. On top of everything, Audemio has a deportation order that could permanently separate him from his wife and children.

You can sign a petition to demand justice for Audemio, and better protections for immigrant detainees, by clicking here.

Shahid Haque was successful in preventing Audemio’s immediate deportation, which would have prevented him from seeking justice for what happened to him.  Audemio has been released from immigration detention for now, and is back with his family for now.  However, as of today, the perpetrators of this horrific crime have still not been brought to justice, and Audemio still faces deportation. You can learn more about this situation by watching the video interview above, with Shahid Haque.  It was recorded on January 9, 2014.

Video: An Overview of Immigration Issues in Montana

May 14, 2014Shahid Haque

We have a broad and diverse immigrant population in Montana — more than most realize.  There are a lot of issues that immigrants face in Montana.  Shahid Haque has represented over a thousand Montana immigrants and their families, and has significant knowledge about issued and trends facing immigrants in Montana.  Learn about some of these issues in an interview that Shahid Haque did for the Helena Civic TV show “Everybody’s Business.”  We conducted the interview on December 5, 2013.

Video: NAFTA and How U.S. Trade Policy Impacts Immigration

February 13, 2014Shahid Haque

In our national debates on immigration reform, we typically omit an extraordinarily important component of the whole discussion:  How U.S. trade policy impacts immigration.  Understanding how trade policies such as NAFTA actually create and drive undocumented immigration is essential to the discussion, and  is perhaps the missing link to greater public understanding and appreciation of the need for immigration reform.  However, these are complex issues, and we rarely have the opportunity to delve into them.This is why I was so pleased to be interviewed on these topics by Will Boland for the Helena Civic TV show “Everybody’s Business.”  

We conducted the interview on January 9, 2014.

Thank You, Linda Gryczan: How Gay Rights Pioneers Helped Immigrants in Montana

June 21, 2013Shahid Haque

by Shahid Haque, Immigration Attorney with the Border Crossing Law Firm, P.C. and President of the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance (“MIJA”).

Immigrants who are challenging LR-121, the State of Montana’s new anti-immigrant law, owe a debt of gratitude to the pioneering gay rights advocates who established an important legal precedent that gives marginalized groups legal standing to challenge laws that threaten to deprive them of their rights.

In 1993, Linda Gryczan led a legal challenge to Montana’s “deviate sexual conduct” statute, which criminalized consensual, private, same-gender sex between adults. In bringing this lawsuit against the State of Montana, she and her five colleagues broke new ground — this was well before the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas reshaped the law regarding private same-sex relationships.

Under the law Gryczan challenged, sex between two consenting adults was a felony, with a possible 10 year prison term or a $50,000 fine. The discriminatory law was enacted in 1977, and although there were no reported instances of any arrests or prosecutions under the law, the threat of enforcement constantly loomed over the plaintiffs. They were made to feel like criminals and second-class residents of the state they called home.

The State of Montana asked the Judge to dismiss Gryczan’s lawsuit, arguing that these plaintiffs lacked legal standing to bring the constitutional challenge. The state argued that the statute had not yet been enforced against anyone, so there was no immediate threatened injury, and that “the mere apprehension of prosecution or the fact that a person may feel denigrated by the law is not sufficient.”

Essentially, the state was arguing that an unconstitutional law could remain on the books, serving as a constant threat that one could be deprived of their rights at any time, but no one could challenge the law until the state actually enforced it against them. In 1997, the Montana Supreme Court rejected the state’s assertion, finding that Gryczan and her colleagues were directly targeted by the law, and even if it had not yet been used against them, they had standing to challenge it based on the threatened injury.

Nevertheless, this familiar argument by the State of Montana was exactly the same one that members of the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance (“MIJA”) faced after they brought their legal challenge to Montana’s new anti-immigrant law.

LR-121 was a referendum asking if voters were for or against denying certain state services to illegal aliens. According to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. David Howard (R-Park City), LR-121 was meant as “a deterrent, so that people will not focus on Montana as a place to come, take our jobs, take our benefits, and live here.”

The law ostensibly requires all Montanans to present proof of citizenship or lawful resident status before accessing state services, meaning that for the first time in Montana’s history, the state would be requiring all residents to start showing their papers before they can access basic state services. This is a massive undertaking. However, no effort has been made to uniformly apply this law, leading to the likelihood that only those Montanans who look or sound different will be asked to prove their status. LR-121 would also violate federal law by denying services to lawful permanent residents who illegally entered the country, but later fixed their immigration status and are now residing here legally. And, the law asks state agencies to misuse a federal database to determine immigration status — despite the fact that federal laws prohibit the database from being used this way — and report applicants to the federal government for deportation proceedings.

LR-121 has created fear and anxiety in the immigrant communities in Montana, amongst both documented and undocumented residents. Eleven members of MIJA who would be denied state services under this law came forward and challenged its constitutionality. However, Attorney General Tim Fox’s office filed a motion to dismiss this lawsuit, making the same arguments that Linda Gryczan faced over a 15 years earlier. The state argued that our claims were speculative because no state agency had yet denied anyone state services under this law, and that we had to wait until that happened to challenge the law.

In our response brief, we were able to draw a direct parallel between Gryczan and the immigrants affected by LR-121. Judge Sherlock agreed with us and rejected the state’s attempt to dismiss our lawsuit, finding that Gryczan had directly addressed this issue in her lawsuit many years ago:

In Gryczan, a group of homosexuals brought a constitutional challenge against Montana’s deviant sexual conduct statute. The statute was not being enforced against any of the plaintiffs, and there was no indication there was a credible threat that it would be applied against them. Further, the court record indicated that no one had ever been prosecuted under the statute. The Supreme Court noted that the key fact was that the statute in question was only 24 years old and had recently been amended. In the instant case, it is important to note that LR-121 was passed in November 2012. With the passage of such a recent enactment, one could say it is reasonable to assume that it will be enforced.Of further note to the Gryczan court was the fact that the plaintiffs were precisely the type of people the statute was designed to affect. Here, exactly the same situation obtains, especially as to the affidavits filed by Plaintiffs of various individuals who illegally entered the United States, but are now lawfully present in this country. The Gryczan court found that the plaintiffs’ reasonable fear of prosecution was enough to grant them standing under these circumstances. Another factor considered by the Gryczan court was that to deny the plaintiffs standing would be to immunize the statute from review.

The court found that “each of the factors mentioned above apply in this case” and denied the State of Montana’s attempt to dismiss our lawsuit.

Linda Gryczan won her lawsuit over 15 years ago, and the “deviate sexual conduct” statute was blocked. However, the Montana Legislature refused to take the obsolete and unenforceable language off the books until this year.

The lasting impact of Gryczan’s lawsuit has been felt not only by the LGBT community, but by all marginalized groups who are targeted by legislation that will deprive them of their rights. Thanks to Linda Gryczan and her co-plaintiffs, it is well-established under Montana law that groups who are targeted by discriminatory legislation can immediately challenge laws that threaten them, and don’t have to allow the laws to sit on the books — creating intentional fear and uncertainty — until the state chooses to enforce them.


The litigation against LR-121 is being done on a pro bono basis by Brian J. Miller of Morrison, Sherwood, Wilson and Deola PLLP, and Shahid Haque of the Border Crossing Law Firm, P.C. We are proud to stand up against LR-121.

Victory Against Montana Attorney General, Lawsuit Against Anti-Immigrant Law Continues

June 7, 2013Shahid Haque

As we have written about before, Shahid Haque 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 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 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.

Immigrant Victims of Domestic Abuse

May 20, 2013Shahid Haque

On May 9, 2013, I participated in a panel discussion about immigrant victims of domestic abuse and sex trafficking victims in rural Montana.  The focus was on the remedies available to these victims, and issues surrounding lawyering and advocating for these groups.  The other panelists were Laurie Grygiel of the Montana Legal Services Association, Cynthia Wolken of the Montana Human Rights Commission, and Representative Jenifer Gursky.  The University of Montana Law School has made a video of this event available for all to view.

We have assisted numerous immigrant victims of domestic abuse with petitions under the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”), including both male and female victims.  Abuse under VAWA can include physical violence or extreme emotional cruelty.  In this panel, we discuss some of the common characteristics of these abusive relationships, the difficulties these victims can experience when law enforcement actually works against them, and we go into detail on one particular case study.

Immigrant victims of domestic abuse may enter the country on a marriage or fiancee visa, or enter the country illegally or overstay a different visa. They ultimately enter into a genuine, bona-fide marriage, which ends due to the abuse.

Abusive U.S. citizens often use their spouse’s immigration status as a way to exert undue control over them — isolating them from society, being physically and emotionally abusive, and threatening to have them deported if they ever report the abuse.  Often, there are children in the household, and the abused spouse doesn’t dare risk being deported and leaving the children in the hands of the abusive spouse.

There are many ways that an abusive spouse can hold someone’s immigration status over their head as a constant threat.  Often times, the spouse simply doesn’t file immigration paperwork, leaving the immigrant spouse in limbo.  If the spouse entered on a fiancee visa, which requires that the marriage occur within 90 days, the abuser can deliberately delay the marriage and cause the immigrant spouse to become out of status.  Or, even if they complete the process and get a green card, new marriages have a two-year “conditional” residence period.  During that time, an immigrant spouse could lose her status if they get divorced or separated, giving the abuser undue control during that time period.

Sometimes, we hear of immigrant victims of domestic violence referred to as “mail order brides.”  As we discussed at the panel, except in the most rare instances, the term is really a misnomer, as it is not representative of most relationships or the manner in which most immigrant spouses came to the United States.  In addition, it has some offensive and sexist undertones. First, it implies that the legal burden to get a visa for a spouse is easy. That is certainly not true, as one who goes through normal immigration channels to obtain entry on a fiancee or marriage visa has to prove a genuine relationship, and this can often be difficult.  In our practice, we have often dealt with legitimate marriage petitions that get wrongly denied because they don’t fit into traditional stereotypes.

The term also implies that the women are complicit in wanting to enter into fake marriages just for the visa. In my experience, the spouse has typically wanted to enter into a genuine and legitimate relationship, but the relationship ends through no fault of their own.While there may be rare instances in which women have literally posed in magazines, been trafficked into the country, and ultimately sold into marriage, the broad usage of the term goes much farther than this limited scenario.  Language is important because it shapes perspective and policy.  The term is currently being used to malign legitimate relationships that may appear “suspicious” to someone based on their own preconceived ideas, but is actually just a form of stereotyping.  Therefore, we encourage readers to either limit the term to the small instances where it would be correct, or simply stop using the term.

If you are the victim of domestic abuse, please contact us and we will try to help.

Shahid Haque Interviewed by Brian Kahn for Home Ground Radio

February 20, 2013Shahid Haque

Home Ground Radio, hosted by Brian Kahn, is one of the most intellectually stimulating radio programs in the state of Montana.   We were proud to be asked to appear on the show to discuss immigration issues, and found it to be a great experience.  The interview was described as follows:

During the 2012 election, illegal immigration was a red-hot topic. But we didn’t learn much about who illegal immigrants are, why they come to America, or the pros and cons of allowing them to stay. Shahid Haque provides some context.

You can listen to the whole interview here:

Home Ground Radio is aired on Montana Public Radio and Yellowstone Public Radio. You can also listen to the archive  of programs over the years.

LR-121 Lawsuit: First Hearing is Scheduled!

December 19, 2012Shahid Haque

We have some exciting news:  Judge Sherlock has ordered the government Defendants to appear on February 7, 2013 at 10:00 am to “show cause why Plaintiffs’ application for a preliminary injunction should not be granted.”

As we previously reported, on December 7, 2012 the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance (“MIJA”) filed a lawsuit in Montana’s First Judicial District Court to challenge and enjoin implementation of LR-121, along with our co-Plaintiffs MEA-MFT and Alisha Blair (a U.S. citizen who would likely be wrongly denied services under the law).  We are challenging the constitutionality of LR-121 because it violates the rights of all Montana residents, not just undocumented immigrants.We are seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent the law from being put into effect while this litigation is pending, and are looking forward to our first hearing in this case.

Please check out our LR-121 litigation page explaining what LR-121 is, why we filed a lawsuit to challenge the law, and how the law impacts all Montanans.

Lawsuit Against LR-121

December 11, 2012Shahid Haque

On December 7, 2012, the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance (“MIJA”) filed a lawsuit in Montana’s First Judicial District Court to challenge and enjoin implementation of LR-121. On June 20, 2014, Judge Jeffrey Sherlock of the First Judicial District Court struck down the vast majority of law, which would have required state agencies to determine an applicant’s citizenship or immigration status before granting a wide variety of state services. The law would have required denial of serves like 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.

Litigation Updates:

12/19/2012 Update: Judge Sherlock has ordered the government Defendants to appear on February 7, 2013 at 10:00 am to “show cause why Plaintiffs’ application for a preliminary injunction should not be granted.”

01/28/2013 Update: We are pleased that two of the defendants in this litigation do not oppose our request for a preliminary injunction to stop LR-121 from being implemented. The Board of Regents and Commissioner of Higher Education are asserting that LR-121 is unconstitutional because it infringes on their authority to control the Montana University System, and we agree with their position.

02/07/2013 Update: The Honorable Judge Jeffrey Sherlock held a hearing on our request to enjoin the law, so that it cannot be enforced while our lawsuit is pending. Plaintiff Alisha Blair courageously testified about how LR-121 would affect her . She was joined by Andrea Carlson, a member of MIJA who was recently in removal proceedings until immigration attorney Shahid Haque proved her citizenship. Ms. Carlson was recently in the news herself when she took her oath of citizenship.

03/20/2013 Update: The State of Montana filed a motion to dismiss our lawsuit for lack of standing — contending that the Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that anyone would be harmed by LR-121. Today, we filed our response to challenge the state’s assertions, attaching affidavits of nine MIJA members who came forward to tell the court how they would be injured by LR-121. These affidavits share compelling stories about the real human beings who will be caught up in this badly designed law. Several of these members entered the United States illegally, but went through long and difficult processes to get their green cards. They now live here legally with their families. Nevertheless, LR-121 conflicts with federal law by saying that anyone who illegally entered the country is an “illegal alien” and will be denied state services — even if they now have green cards.

03/28/2013 Update:  Judge Sherlock has granted a partial temporary restraining order, issuing “limiting constructions” on the ways that the State of Montana can implement LR-121. This order is significant because it constitutes the first decision in the State of Montana to address the constitutionality of any state-level enforcement of federal immigration laws. Please read the details here.

06/05/2013 Update:  Judge Sherlock has 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 in immigration proceedings, came forward to tell the court how they would be impacted by LR-121. This story was also reported in the Great Falls Tribune.

05/29/2014 Update:  We have completed extensive briefing and had a hearing before Judge Sherlock on both parties’ motions for summary judgment. We asked the Judge to enter judgment, without a trial, on the issue of federal preemption.  The hearing went well, and we will await a decision as soon as Judge Sherlock can get to it. We believe we have proven that LR-121 is preempted by federal law.

06/20/2014 Update: 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. 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.

What is LR-121?

LR-121 was placed on the ballot by the 2011 Montana Legislature, and voters approved the referendum on November 6, 2012. However, the full implications of this referendum may not have been apparent to Montana voters when they cast they ballot. Voters were simply asked if they were FOR or AGAINST denying certain state services to illegal aliens. However, the ballot language did not adequately express the new burdens that all Montanans, including U.S. citizens, will have to face before accessing state services.

LR-121 imposes a sweeping new regulatory scheme that will affect the constitutional rights of almost all Montanans who apply for or use state services. The law now requires all Montanansto present documents to prove their citizenship or immigration status before accessing state services. The burden is now on the average Montanan to prove that they are here legally, or else they will be denied state services. The new law also subjects applicants to being screened through a federal database to confirm immigration status, and gives state agencies unrestricted authority to report applicants to the federal government if information cannot be confirmed.

How Will This Law Impact the Average Montanan?

For the first time in Montana’s history, the state will be requiring citizens to start carrying certain papers and presenting them before they can access basic state services. To be clear, the law imposes a mandate that all applicants for services to be screened for citizenship or legal immigration status, which includes every Montana resident. This imposes a restriction on the fundamental right to pursue life’s basic necessities as provided in Article II, Section 3 of the Montana Constitution.

The services that will now be conditioned on proof of citizenship include employment with a state agency, attendance a public university, ability to obtain student financial assistance, ability to obtain a license or permit to practice a trade or profession, eligibility for unemployment insurance, services for victims of crime, vocational rehabilitation, and certain services for the physically disabled.

Not All Montanans Have Proof of Their Citizenship

Not all Montanans have readily-available proof of their U.S. citizenship — in fact, studies show that nationally, about 7% of the population don’t have these documents. There are typically only two ways to prove you are a citizen: by providing a birth certificate or a U.S. passport. For many reasons, there are Montanans who don’t have copies of their birth certificates, and who have never gotten passports. Under this law, Montanans are losing privacy protections — state agencies are going to ask for your identity documents for basic services and deny you services if you can’t provide them.

In addition, due to the complexities of federal immigration law and the facts and circumstances of an individual’s life, a person can be a lawful U.S. citizen, and a resident of Montana, but lack documentary proof of their citizenship. For instance, Alisha Blair is a U.S. citizen who may be wrongly denied services under this law. Ms. Blair is a 22 year-old who grew up in Sunburst, Montana who automatically acquired U.S. citizenship at birth. She was born in Canada and has been residing in Montana since she was one year old. Her U.S. citizenship was transmitted to her at birth through her U.S. citizen father by operation of federal law, but she has never had any documents to prove her citizenship.

Our complaint includes an affidavit from Ms. Blair and another individual with a similar situation.  The plight of a 65-year-old teacher from Fairfield, Montana  provides another example of the type of person who will be caught in this system. There are many more lawful Montana citizens like these individuals who will be wrongly denied services under this law. By treating lawful Montana residents differently, without any legitimate reason, the law violates the equal protection clause of the Montana Constitution.

Ineffective Screening Through Federal Databases

If you don’t have documents to prove your citizenship of lawful resident status, the referendum suggests that state agencies can screen you through the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (“SAVE”) system, a federal database that charges between $.50 and $2.00 for each search in the system. However, there is a significant limitation with this system: The SAVE program does not contain any information on native-born U.S. citizens, or most individuals who entered the country without inspection. SAVE can only verify information contained in immigrations records. Therefore, it only includes information on individuals who have applied for or received certain immigration benefits through interaction with relevant agencies within the U.S. government.

There is no federal database that is available to the State of Montana for benefit eligibility determinations that would provide a comprehensive listing of all U.S. citizens.

This means that in some ways, native-born U.S. citizens may have a harder time proving their status than a lawfully residing immigrant, because if you don’t have the documents in hand, there is no alternate way to verify your U.S. citizenship. Before implementing this law, state agencies must be called upon to explain how they can implement this law without violating the rights of U.S. citizens.

Violations of the Right to Privacy and Due Process

Under LR-121, lawful Montana citizens who don’t have proof of citizenship may be wrongly denied services that they are entitled to as taxpayers. To make matters worse, there are no due process protections outlined in the law, so there is no clear way to challenge a state agency’s decision if you are wrongly denied services.

There are also no restrictions in the law to protect privacy interests and limit dissemination of the information that is collected. When lawfully present U.S. citizens like Plaintiff Alisha Blair apply for state services, there is nothing prohibiting the State from classifying them as “illegal aliens” and then calling upon the Department of Homeland Security to investigate them. Indeed, the Act provides unrestricted discretion to state agencies to classify any applicant who cannot prove to the State’s satisfaction that he or she is a U.S. citizen as an “illegal alien” and report the individual to DHS.

Montanans value the privacy protections in our Constitution — protections that are greater than provided under federal law and most other states. That’s why we’ve fought back against attempts to create a national identification card, and led the nation in rejecting the federal REAL ID laws. However, based on the misguided goal of targeting undocumented immigrants (even anti-immigrant
groups estimate there are only 5,000 in our state) this referendum has subjected the State of Montana and its residents to far more invasive requirements than REAL ID ever contemplated.

Preemption by Federal Law

Not only does this burdensome regulatory scheme impact our constitutional rights, but it also violates federal law. Under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the federal government alone has the power to enact and to enforce regulations concerning which non-citizens to admit, exclude, remove or allow to remain in the United States. The federal government has exclusive authority to classify non-citizens within this framework of laws regulating immigration. The states may not create their own distinct classifications of immigrants that differ from the classifications created by federal law.

LR-121 is preempted by federal law because it utilizes its own classification of non-citizens that conflicts with federal law. Section 6(b) of the Act defines an “illegal alien” as “an individual who is not a citizen of the United States and who has unlawfully entered or remains unlawfully in the United States.” The term “illegal alien” is not defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) or other federal laws regulating immigration, and the definition in this law conflicts with federal laws because there are numerous categories of noncitizens who illegally entered the United States, but do not illegally remain in the United States.

This is not a mere technicality, as this definition alone makes the law unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The State of Alabama recently passed its own state law regulating immigration, and one provision was recently enjoined for the same reason, where it tried to create a separate classification of non-citizens who are entitled to different rights and privileges.

Conservatives and Progressives Alike Should Be Concerned About This Law

Whether you are a conservative or a progressive — Democrat or a Republican — LR-121 is bad policy for the State of Montana. Montana is one of the states with the least numbers of immigrants in the whole country. The violation of our privacy rights, delays or wrongful denial of services, and extra cost to the state are simply not justified by the stated goal of denying services to undocumented immigrants.

According to the Montana Budget and Policy Center, the cost to the State of Montana of implementing this law will be far higher than any savings from denying services to undocumented immigrants. In a time when the Montana Legislature is seeking to cut services to increase the budget surplus, this burdensome new regulatory scheme is counterintuitive.

Who is Representing the Plaintiffs in this Lawsuit?

This litigation is being done on a pro bono basis by Shahid Haque of the Border Crossing Law Firm, P.C. (also Executive Director of MIJA) and he was assisted by Brian J. Miller of Morrison, Motl and Sherwood, PLLP.

Contact Us

In addition, if you are a U.S. citizen or lawful resident who does not have proof of your citizenship, or are concerned about how this law will impact you, please contact us.

Advocating for immigrants.

The Border Crossing Law Firm is a full-service immigration law firm, offering help with visas, green cards, citizenship, and deportation proceedings. We have been committed to the immigrant community for two decades, representing thousands of immigrants and their families across the country.