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Mont. Law Requiring 'Immigration Checks' Struck Down

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on June 25, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A federal judge in Montana has struck down most of a state law that required government officials to check the immigration status of those applying for state services.

The law was passed by voters in 2012 and required that Montana state officials run an immigration check on anyone applying for a wide array of state services, including unemployment benefits and crime-victim assistance, reports The Associated Press.

Why did the federal judge take issue with Montana's law?

Conflict With Federal Law

In his order overturning the state law, Judge Jeffrey Sherlock said the "crux of the problem" with the law, known as Legislative Referendum 121, was its attempt to define the term "illegal alien."

The judge ruled that the law was an attempt to regulate immigration, which is exclusively a federal power. He struck down all but one provision of the law: the requirement that state officials report to immigration authorities the name of any person not in the United States legally.

Given that state officials are not required to check the immigration status of those applying for services, the reporting requirement portion of the law is something of a moot point, the court explained.

State Immigration Laws

The Montana law is just the latest in a series of laws passed by states seeking to crack down on illegal immigration. Some of those laws, like Montana's, have run afoul of federal supremacy.

As you may recall, a 2010 immigration reform law that passed in Arizona was similarly disassembled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012. The Court struck down all but the portion of the law allowing police to question the immigration status of people already stopped or arrested by police for other reasons.

Laws in other states, such as an Alabama law that would have required public elementary and secondary schools to check immigration status when enrolling children, have also been overturned on other constitutional grounds.

Attorneys for Montana have not yet decided whether they will appeal the ruling, according to The Associated Press.

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