Groups Challenge Constitutionality Of Montana Measure Denying State Services To Those Without Citizenship Documents

An immigration advocacy organization and other groups are challenging the constitutionality of a new Montana law that requires people to provide proof of citizenship before receiving state services or benefits. It allows state agencies to deny undocumented immigrants as well as anyone else without the proper documentation the ability to attend a state college, register for a professional license, access services for victims of crimes, or receive certain benefits for people with physical disabilities.

The Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance filed the lawsuit along with the state’s largest union and Alisha Blair, a 22-year-old Montana resident who was born in Canada to a mother who’s a Canadian citizen and a father who is a U.S. citizen. According to the Independent Record, Blair was accepted to the University of Montana, but the college denied her financial aid because she did not have proof of U.S. citizenship even though she is a U.S. citizen and has lived in Montana since she was 1 year old. She said she didn’t attend college because she couldn’t afford the tuition.

In 2011, a similar bill failed in the Montana legislature before the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. David Howard (R), submitted the citizenship measure as a legislative referendum. After the legislature passed it, the bill went to the voters as a ballot referendum. Eighty percent of Montana voters approved of the measure in November. As a result, “the law now places the burden on the average Montanan to prove that they are here legally, or they will be denied state services,” the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance said in a press release.