HELENA, Mont. (May 4, 2017) – The Montana State Senate killed a bill that would have effectively prohibited so-called “sanctuary cities” that refuse to help enforce some federal immigration laws in the state.

Introduced by Rep. Derek Skees (R-Kalispell), House Bill 611 (HB611) would have partially defunded sanctuary cities in the state. The proposed law would have prohibited local governments from implementing policies that “prohibit sending to, receiving from, exchanging with, or maintaining for a federal, state, or local government entity information regarding a person’s citizenship or immigration status,” It would have also barred local policies block compliance with federal immigration detainer requests.

Local governments violating the law would have faced a loss of significant state funding. According to Great Falls Tribune, “the bill sets up penalties for cities that violate provisions. They would be prevented from receiving their share of oil and natural gas production taxes and coal gross proceeds tax. Also included is any projects recommended from the Montana department of commerce for infrastructure projects.”

The bill was approved by the state House in a 59-41 vote but was transmitted to the Senate after the crossover deadline. A motion to suspend the rules and allow the bill to move forward in the upper chamber failed to garner the necessary 2/3 majority, effectively killing the bill.


Some U.S. cities, and the state of California, have refused to participate in a narrow segment of federal immigration enforcement. In all of these situations, government and law enforcement agencies in these cities don’t actively stop ICE from enforcing immigration laws. However, in a narrow sense, they simply don’t provide any support or assistance to federal agents. These cities leave it to the federal government to enforce federal law.

Non-cooperation with federal enforcement rests on a well-established legal principle known as the anti-commandeering doctrine. Simply put, the federal government cannot force states or their political subdivisions to help implement or enforce any federal act or regulatory program.

It would appear that Pres.Trump recognizes this as well. In his Jan. 25 Executive Order on “sanctuary jurisdictions,” he acknowledges that his policy of having state and local agents act as interior federal immigration enforcement will be done “with the consent of State or local officials.”

HB611 would have represented a constitutional way to force cities to help enforce immigration laws. The federal government cannot do it do it. But if a state decides it wants to spend its time, money and resources assisting the federal government, they can certainly make that choice.

TJ Martinell

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