By Dillon Tabish, 4-28-12
HELENA — While other states are making plans to introduce tough new immigration enforcement measures in the wake of Supreme Court arguments over an Arizona law, the fate of such legislation in Montana largely hinges on elections this fall.
The 2011 Republican-led Legislature discussed several crackdowns on immigration. If the GOP holds onto its majority in the statehouse after the November elections, conservatives are very likely to propose laws in the 2013 session that mimic those in Arizona.
Some of those conservatives say it should be the responsibility of the federal government to stop the immigration, but the government has come up short.
"Part of me wants to join Arizona in doing this, the other part of me wants to just rap the federal governments on the knuckles," said Montana state Rep. Krayton Kerns, a Republican from Laurel. "Perhaps by us doing some of this, it would force federal action."
The Supreme Court last week heard arguments on portions of the Arizona law that's seen as a model for cracking down on illegal immigrants. The high court didn't appear to have any problems with a requirement that police check the legal status of people they stop for other reasons, though it is unclear how they will rule on that and other provisions that make Arizona state crimes out of immigration violations.
Montana shares a 545-mile northern border with three Canadian provinces, although drug importation from Canada has generally been a more common problem than illegal immigration. Illegal immigration arrests in one Border Patrol sector in Texas or Arizona can run 1,000 times greater than a sector on the Canadian border.
Although Montana has never had a large Hispanic presence, Kerns said the rapid growth of oil fields in eastern Montana could draw more immigrants to the state and make it a larger issue.
Many of the ideas that emerged in the 2011 Legislature were borrowed from others states, such as prohibiting local governments from establishing so-called "immigration sanctuaries." That bill was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
The lawmakers, however, were able to successfully send a ballot initiative to voters this November asking them to ban illegal immigrants from receiving state services.
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