HELENA — Legislative committees heard several more Republican-sponsored bills Tuesday that aim to keep illegal immigrants out of the state.
One bill would require employers to check workers' immigration status. Another tries to prevent Montana cities from becoming illegal immigrant sanctuaries. They are among several policies being endorsed by lawmakers who say they need to protect employers and stop illegal immigrants from taking Montanans' jobs.
Opponents, however, say the measures are burdensome and unnecessary because Montana doesn't have the same immigrant population issues as other areas of the country.
The House Business and Labor Committee heard a bill that would require employers to check workers' status through a federal database. House Bill 440 would suspend business licenses for businesses that don't use the database called E-Verify. Another bill would require the use of E-Verify before issuing a driver's license.
Supporters said illegal aliens are a growing problem in Montana and the E-Verify system would deter illegal immigrants from applying for jobs and make it easier for businesses to employ legal workers.
"This to me is a way to level the playing field for all employers," said Bob Winger, president of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers in Helena.
Those opposed to the E-Verify requirement said the system is an unnecessary government regulation of businesses. Critics also said the database subjects Montanans to undue federal scrutiny.
"It poses unacceptable threats to American workers' privacy rights by increasing the risk of data surveillance and identify theft," said Scott Crichton, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana.
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Another opponent included an E-Verify user who said the database is cumbersome and difficult to use.
"I can tell you from experience this system is not user-friendly," said Willie Duffield, who runs a Montana trucking company.
Also Tuesday, House Bill 492 was proposed in the House Judiciary Committee as an effort to ensure local governments don't mimic policies in other states where police don't report illegal immigrants.
A number of cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles have such sanctuary policies, which protect illegal immigrants by not funding or allowing enforcement of federal immigration laws.
Republican Rep. David Howard of Park City, who is carrying the bill, said states with sanctuary policies are violating the rule of law and discriminating against legal citizens. He said Montanans will lose jobs to illegal immigrants if they aren't reported to the federal government, and it's important to block such problems ahead of time.
"The trouble is when you know you have a problem it's too late," Howard said.
Those opposing the measure said the issue isn't a pertinent one in Montana, which doesn't have such sanctuary cities and doesn't have the same immigrant population issues as other areas of the country.
The Legislature is considering several other immigration bills, including one by Howard to make the employment of an unauthorized alien illegal.