Public employees should not be held liable for determining whether a person is a legal immigrant or not. That’s why MEA-MFT has joined with the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance in a lawsuit to challenge and enjoin Legislative Referendum 121, the “Proof of Citizenship” Referendum. The referendum was voted into law in the November election.
The MEA-MFT Board of Directors voted to oppose LR 121 in the November election — largely because it basically forces Montana state employees and college & university staff to become immigration agents.
LR 121 mandates that state and university employees determine a person’s status when that person applied for state services, including attendance at any public university, student financial assistance, issuance of a state license or permit to practice a trade or profession, unemployment insurance benefits, vocational rehabilitation, services for victims of crime, or services for the physically disabled.
Determining citizenship or authorized status has always been the job of the federal government. Under LR-121, the burden falls on the state – meaning, state employees.
If a state employee is unsure of a person’s status, the employee would have to check identity against a federal database and then report the person to immigration and customs enforcement if something does not match up.
Also joining in the lawsuit as a co-plaintiff is Alisha Blair, a U.S. citizen who would likely be wrongly denied services under the referendum.
The lawsuit asserts that LR-121 violates U.S. citizens’ right to privacy, due process, equal protection under the law. Further, it is preempted by federal law.
The lawsuit was filed December 7, 2012, in Montana’s First Judicial District Court. The case has been assigned to the Honorable Judge Jeffrey M. Sherlock in Helena, Montana.
The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of LR-121 because it imposes a sweeping new regulatory scheme that will violate the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens and lawful Montana residents, not just undocumented aliens.
• For the first time in Montana’s history, the law now places the burden on the average Montanans to prove that they are here legally, or else they will be denied state services.
• At least seven percent of Montanans do not have readily available proof of their U.S. citizenship, such as a birth certificate or a U.S. passport. The law suggests use of the federal SAVE system to verify immigration status, but the SAVE program does not contain any information on native-born U.S. citizens. This means that if you don’t have documents in hand, there is no back-up method to verify your U.S. citizenship. The government has not explained how it will prevent wrongful denial of services to U.S. citizens.
• 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.
• There are no due process protections, so there is no clear way to challenge wrongful denial of services. There are also no restrictions to protect privacy interests. In fact, the law specifically allows state agencies to report you to the federal government.
• The violation of our privacy rights, delays or wrongful denial of services, and extra cost to the state are not justified by the referendum’s stated goal of denying services to undocumented immigrants.
Copies of the complaint and initial legal brief can be downloaded here: www.mija.org