HELENA (AP) — Montana lawmakers on Monday looked at a proposal that would require cities to help enforce anti-immigration laws, which supporters argue is necessary to prevent what has happened in other states.
The measure from Republican David Howard of Park City would prohibit cities from establishing policies that they won't enforce illegal immigration. He told the House Judiciary Committee on Monday that House Bill 50 ensures local governments will enforce federal law.
Howard said that cities elsewhere have made it a policy for their police officers not to inquire about immigration statues or to report illegal immigrants to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He argued a statewide ban is needed before any cities in the state try to adopt such a policy.
Howard, a retired agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said illegal immigrants know which cites set up such policies.
"It creates a defense in wonderful Montana where they won't come here," Howard said. "That all this does is to protect Montanans."
Opponents argue it forces local police agencies to pay for the extra job of enforcing federal immigration issues, and perhaps imposes on the Montana constitutional right to privacy.
They argued that a city should be allowed, for budget reasons, to place a lower priority on policing immigration.
"A sanctuary city is a city that has simply decided on its own limited resources ... that they are not going to actively enforce federal immigration laws," Helena attorney Shahid Haque-Hausrath said. "It just means they are not going to make it a priority, they are going to follow their own priorities."
A similar bill cleared the Legislature two years ago, only to be vetoed by former Gov. Brian Schweitzer. The governor argued at that time that it was unnecessary because no Montana cities have established any policies that could be described as an immigration sanctuary.
The opponents to the bill included the Montana Association of Churches and the Montana Catholic Conference, who argued that a state ban could punish "basic human justice and comfort." The proposal preys on the fear of other types of people.
"One of the great concerns that I have with this bill is that over the years we have looked at greater and greater federal overreaching on the rights of various states and organizations," said Moe Wosepka, executive director of the Catholic Conference. "I believe we are going backward by the state conferring even greater authority to the federal government."
It is just one of two anti-immigration bills proposed so far at the Legislature. The other, still in the drafting process, would make it illegal to employ an illegal immigrant.
Lawmakers in 2011 pitched many more such bills. One of them was placed directly on the ballot and requires proof of citizenship in order to receive state services. Voters overwhelmingly approved it November.
Opponents of such measures said they are cautiously optimistic that the Legislature won't be making anti-immigration bills a priority this session.