Immigration Reform: Why Montana Has Become the Biggest Battleground

As we usher in the new year, politicians are bracing themselves for life post-elections. Pennsylvania and Montana have pushed through two new laws to combat the threat of illegal immigration. While Pennsylvania wants employees to use the federal E-Verify system to ensure that employees are legal U.S. residents, Montana is looking to do something a little different: Deny illegal immigrants state services.

Pennsylvania's decision to mandate the use of the Federal E-Verify system does not seem to contest any serious issues; it is simply utilizing a federal resource within the state.

More specifically, it tries to ensure that illegal immigrants aren’t hired for public works purposes by conducting random audits, especially those that originate from credible complaints. There is also a strict punishment scheme in place, including debarring the company from public works for a set amount of time, depending on how many times the company has committed the offense. The system is connected to I-9 verification, meaning that E-Verify works with I-9 in this instance. I-9 documents ensure that the employee is legally a resident of the U.S. and is allowed to work in the United States as well.

However, the Montana law raises the same questions that both supporters and opponents of illegal immigration have been asking.

Those who support illegal immigrants contend that the denial of state services hurts them during times of economic crisis. In the general debate regarding illegal immigration, these are the people who don’t support deportation and would rather that there be a path to amnesty for illegal immigrants. On the other end of the spectrum, those who are against illegal immigration believe that there is no proof that illegal aliens are using state services. This debate is reminiscent of the Republican primaries, when Rick Perry was found in support of giving scholarships to the children of illegal immigration to attend state universities. While trying to defend himself, he said opponents of providing these children education “don’t have a heart,” reported Washington Post.

Despite the passing of these laws, the fact remains that Republicans and Democrats have different stances on the issue of illegal immigration.

Republicans, in general, believe in legal immigration, so illegal immigrants should be deported to their countries of origin and should be denied state services. This is probably why many were weary of Perry’s seemingly altruistic policies with regards to illegal immigration.

Democrats, in short, believe that illegal immigrants should be given amnesty, with the usual understanding that they have escaped their country of origin to provide a better life for themselves and their families.

There are more complexities that we continue to grapple with: Should children born in the U.S. whose parents who illegally emigrated here be considered citizens? Should we, in that case, reconsider the Fourteenth Amendment? 

Such issues have not yet been resolved. Maybe 2013 is the year for legislation that can help us answer these important questions.

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Anjana Sreedhar

Anjana is a passionate NYU student studying International Relations and Gender and Sexuality. She is also a PolicyMic writing intern who enjoys following the news and hopes to work in international development, particularly improving reproductive health of women and girls. When not studying, working, or researching, you'll find her editing for the NYU Journal of Politics and International Affairs, writing for NYU Generasian and Washington Square News, or watching Downton Abbey with a cup of masala chai.

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