Montana voters will be asked to decide in the general election whether to approve a legislative referendum to deny state services to people who can't prove they are citizens or government-approved residents.
There's nothing good about this referendum. LR-121 would discriminate against immigrant families and burden all Montanans with increased bureaucracy and costs.
A recent column in the Billings Gazette explains that if made law this referendum would be like Real ID for all Montanans -- all for an estimated 5,000 immigrants who may be in our state illegally.
U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who need assistance will be prevented from receiving it. All people seeking services like disability benefits, university aid, state licenses and state employment would have to prove their citizenship or legal status in the country. That may be difficult, if not impossible, for some Montanans who lack the proper identification. In addition, the databases used to prove citizenship or immigration status are riddled with errors and American citizens in other states have been unlawfully denied services they are eligible for.
Verification systems required under LR-121 will be costly and ineffective. The costs of installing and operating verification databases, training employees to use them and lost time entering applicant information into the systems will be substantial.
Immigrants contribute greatly to Montana's economy and community, and LR-121 would discourage them from working and investing in our state. Together, Latino and Asian buying power in Montana was more than $675 million dollars in 2008. More than half the immigrants living in Montana are naturalized citizens who are eligible to vote. Referendums like LR-121 only alienate this population, driving a wedge between their community and the rest of the state.
Montanans value their neighbors, independence and freedom. We don't want or need another level of government bureaucracy.