HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana House Judiciary Committee Republicans cut short the testimony of two opponents of a bill that would ban sanctuary cities in the state during a hearing Tuesday after they said the bill reinforced white supremacist views.
The bill would require local law enforcement to comply with federal immigration law and empower the state’s attorney general to pursue civil action against jurisdictions that do not comply — including fines and withholding state grant funds.
Committee Chair Rep. Barry Usher, a Republican from Yellowstone County, said the bill was not related to race. He refused to hear testimony that mentioned racism but permitted testimony from bill proponents who voiced negative views of immigrants.
Montana does not currently have any sanctuary cities. Bill sponsor Rep. Kenneth Holmlund, R-Miles City, said it is needed to preempt problems created by sanctuary cities in other parts of the country.
The bill’s supporters said sanctuary cities increase criminal activity. Opponents said the measure would expose Montana cities and towns to lawsuits.
Keith Kubista, of Stevensville, said sanctuary cities allow “harboring of criminals” and “enable illegal aliens to take jobs away from Montanans and U.S. citizens.”
The Rev. Laura Jean Allen, senior minister at First Christian Church in Helena, said the bill would foster distrust of law enforcement at a time of greater tension between police and communities of color.
“As a white woman, I have been conditioned throughout my lifetime that police have my best interest in mind and can be trusted. When I am pulled over, my greatest fear is that I will be ticketed, not that I will be hurt, killed or deported,” Allen said before Usher cut her testimony short and asked her to submit her testimony in writing rather than deliver it to the committee.
“We’re not going down the rabbit hole of racism because there are immigrants from all over the world that are every color on earth and we’re not doing racism in this hearing,” Usher said.
Rabbi Lauri Franklin, who spoke on behalf of the Montana Association of Rabbis, said the bill is driven by “white supremacy, bigotry and hatred.”
“This bill is specifically intended to isolate, intimidate and demonize both documented and undocumented immigrant populations by identifying them as other, unworthy of protection, citizenship and humane treatment,” Franklin said, before her testimony was interrupted Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, who said it was not directly related to the bill being discussed.
Franklin was later allowed to proceed with her testimony but was interrupted again by Skees, at which point Usher requested Franklin submit the remainder of her testimony in writing.
Franklin said the Jewish community is “particularly aware of the effects of anti-immigrant rhetoric.”
“It sustains and promotes a philosophy of othering, of fear and hatred of those who don’t look like the so-called white majority or don’t attend the same houses of worship,” sher said.
Bill sponsor Rep. Kenneth Holmlund, R-Miles City, countered that the bill was not intended to discriminate against any particular group — only to enforce the law in relation to immigrants who have entered the U.S. illegally.
“This bill does not have anything to do with people being arrested without cause. If they had not already broken the law, they would not be subject to what is in this bill,” he said.
The hearing came as Republican lawmakers attempt to advance the measure after it failed to be signed into law during the two previous legislative sessions.
In 2019, former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed a measure seeking to ban sanctuary cities, saying the bill was “a solution searching for a problem.”
Samuels is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.