Guest opinion: LR-121 would bring costly, racist burden to Montana

2012-09-01T00:10:00Z Guest opinion: LR-121 would bring costly, racist burden to MontanaBy BETHANY LETIECQ
and TRAVIS McADAM
The Billings Gazette
September 01, 2012 12:10 am  • 

This November you will be asked to take a position on LR-121, a legislative referendum to “deny certain state services to illegal aliens.” If LR-121 were to pass, it would establish unprecedented state-level procedures mandating that state employees determine your status when applying for all kinds of services, including: state agency employment, 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. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security makes these complex determinations. Under LR-121, the burden of determining status will fall on the state. If a state employee is unsure of your status, the employee will have to check your identity against a federal database and then report you to immigration and customs enforcement under DHS if something does not match up.

Worse than REAL ID

The use of the federal database is not free (or error proof), and the state of Montana will bear the cost of using the system and training hundreds of state workers to use it. Requiring state employees to notify a federal agency about individuals seeking state-level services is unprecedented. It’s like REAL ID on steroids.

Beyond the complexities of implementing LR-121, it’s financially irresponsible and unnecessary. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that there are approximately 5,000 undocumented people in Montana. That’s right — 5,000 out of more than a million people. Yet every state agency involved under this law will be required to train staff to identify the immigration status of all people seeking services. While the exact cost of this law is nearly impossible to determine, it is clear that LR-121 will force the state to incur significant ongoing costs.

A goal of LR-121, according to its sponsors, is to make Montana as inhospitable as possible to undocumented people. But what does “undocumented” look like? Let’s face it. Under LR-121, it’s highly likely that our Mexican and Native American community members will bear the most burden and suffer the most injustice. How will we prevent racial profiling under this law? Promoting hostility and hatred towards people of color and immigrants is just plain wrong. It runs counter to our Montana values.

Threat to families

Passage of LR-121 may also disrupt families. Many Mexican migrant workers, for example, are here with their family members. Some migrant families have mixed statuses, where some family members have current authorization to be in the U.S., others may lack or be out of status and other family members (namely, children) are U.S. citizens. In 2009, the Immigration Policy Center reported that 99.5 percent of children in Latino families in Montana were U.S. citizens. Deporting a family’s primary breadwinner or caregiver puts children at risk of being separated from their parents and ending up in foster care. How devastating.

We agree that our country needs immigration reform, but passing LR-121 is a bad idea. Look at the negative unintended consequences of anti-immigrant laws passed in Arizona and Alabama. Many voters in those states have buyer’s remorse for buying into an anti-immigrant agenda that has been extremely costly to implement and uphold under the law, while also breaking families apart and hurting local economies. LR-121 is burdensome, financially irresponsible, too complex, racist at its roots, and anti-immigrant. Voters should take a pass and vote against this referendum in November.

Bethany Letiecq is president of the Gallatin Valley Human Rights Task Force and a member of the Montana Human Rights Network board. Travis McAdam is executive director of the Network.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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