Legislators need to work on illegal
by BOB BROWN
2007 Montana Legislature failed to act on immigration legislation, a
matter of huge national significance that has not yet become a
significant matter in Montana. Montana stands out on the map of
Western states for having by far the lowest per capita population of
illegal aliens. However, seven bills were introduced to prepare
Montana for the anticipated influx. All bills died.
national security, public services and employment related
implications of the millions of people who are in our country
illegally has monopolized the work of Congress in recent weeks. But
Congress appears unlikely to realistically address the problem
because securing the border is necessary to any real solution, and
neither Congress nor the president have made a priority of keeping
illegals out. As long as immigrants continue to enter our country
illegally, their impact will continue to grow.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center of the Pew Charitable
Trusts, the number of illegal immigrants in the United States more
than doubled from about 5 million in 1996 to 11 million in 2004. The
number of undocumented immigrants in the United States is estimated
to be more than 12 million.
the border state of Arizona, according to Pew data, the number of
undocumented persons quadrupled from 115,000 to an estimated 500,000
in the same 1996-2004 period. In response, Arizona Gov. Janet
Napolitano has taken the highly unusual step of declaring a state of
emergency in order to free up state government money to boost law
enforcement along the border.
Arizona people took action themselves in 2004 by adopting
Proposition 200, which barred social services to illegal immigrants,
made it a crime for public employees to fail to report undocumented
immigrants seeking benefits, and required proof of citizenship to
register to vote. Nearly 56 percent of Arizona voters supported the
proposition, and a federal appeals court has rejected a lawsuit
aimed at overturning it. Further legal action is pending.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures,
by the end of 2006, 32 states had enacted 84 laws pertaining to
illegal aliens. Opposition to the legislation has often been fierce.
Still, in the absence of meaningful action by Congress, states are
acting independently to protect jobs and public
the past year Colorado has enacted legislation which prohibits state
agencies from entering into agreements with contractors who
knowingly employ illegal immigrants and requiring contractors to
verify legal work status of their employees. Similar legislation
died in the Montana legislature this year.
Colorado now restricts public benefits to those who are not
U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. A new Pennsylvania law
prohibits the use of labor by illegal immigrants on projects
financed by grants and loans from state government. Florida requires
proof of legal immigrant status from driver’s license applicants.
Maine and Missouri have enacted similar laws. New Hampshire requires
proof of citizenship for voter registration. Similar laws have
recently been enacted in Delaware and South Dakota.
likelihood is that undocumented aliens will continue to enter the
United States in large numbers. The 2007 legislative session missed
the perfect opportunity to clarify our laws in regard to
undocumented immigrants before they become a burden and source of
conflict in our state.
Montana legislators should begin researching and preparing
legislation, patterned after other states, for introduction in the
2009 legislative session. Or, perhaps Montana citizens should take
the initiative themselves by placing an undocumented immigration
measure on our election ballot for 2008.
Bob Brown is the former Montana Secretary of State.