HELENA — Montana’s attorney general plans to appeal a judge’s ruling that a voter-approved law requiring immigration checks of anybody applying for state services goes against federal immigration laws.
The 2011 Republican-led Legislature wrote the proposal meant to deny government jobs and assistance to people who are in the U.S. illegally. Legislators sent the plan to the 2012 ballot, where the referendum passed with nearly 80 percent of the vote.
The law required Montana agencies to check legal status when a person applied for any state service from unemployment benefits to assistance for crime victims. If the person was not in the country legally, the agency must turn over the name to federal immigration officials.
Groups led by the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance sued to strike down the law, saying it infringes on the right to privacy, due process and equal protection.
District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock ruled in June the state law attempts to regulate immigration, which is exclusively a federal power.
Legislative Referendum 121 makes up its own definition of “illegal alien,” meaning state officials would be making their own determination of immigration status, Sherlock said in his ruling.
Attorney General Tim Fox intends to appeal the ruling once an issue over attorneys’ fees is resolved, Department of Justice spokeswoman Anastasia Burton said Friday.
Two other defendants named in the lawsuit — the Montana Board of Regents and the Commissioner of Higher Education — won’t join the appeal, university system attorney Jessica Brubaker said.
Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance attorney Shahid Haque-Hausrath said he is confident the Montana Supreme Court will uphold Sherlock’s ruling.
The law was never enforced, and Haque-Hausrath said state agencies had indicated they were waiting for the court’s guidance on how to implement it.
“I think that state agencies were actually relieved they wouldn’t have to navigate through something they knew was unconstitutional,” he said.
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