Montana Bans ‘Sanctuary Cities’

April 1, 2021 Updated: April 1, 2021

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has signed a bill into law that bans “sanctuary cities” in the state.

House Bill 200, which was approved last month by the Montana’s Republican-led state legislature, prohibits state agencies and local governments from blocking local law enforcement officers from enforcing federal immigration law. It also authorizes the state’s attorney general to monitor violations and bring civil action against jurisdictions that fail to comply.

Specifically, local jurisdictions within Montana cannot adopt any policy that may restrict the sharing of certain information on “citizenship or immigration status” with the federal government or local police responses to federal immigration detainers. They will lose access to state grants and face a $10,000 fine for every 5 days they are not in compliance with the law.

“We are a nation of laws, and immigration laws will be enforced in Montana,” Gianforte said in a statement to news outlets.

The Republican governor added that the law is meant to protect Montana families and communities from criminals who are in the country illegally.

“HB 200 ensures drug dealers, human traffickers, and other criminals who are in our country unlawfully will have no refuge in our state,” he said.

A measure similar to HB 200 passed in 2019, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat.

There are currently no “sanctuary cities” in Montana. According to immigration advocacy group American Immigration Council, there were fewer than 5,000 immigrants unlawfully residing in the state as of 2016, making up 12 percent of Montana’s immigrant population and less than half a percent of the total population.

Another proposal, House Bill 223, seeks to increase local law enforcement’s role in federal immigration enforcement in Montana. Under current state law, local law enforcement is able to decide whether or not to detain an individual who is sought by federal immigration authorities such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The bill, if passed, will take away the option not to cooperate with ICE.

House Bill 223 was endorsed by both chambers of the state legislature, and will undergo another vote in the House after it was amended in the Senate. Gianforte has not yet to indicate whether he would sign it into law.

In January 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to withhold millions of dollars in law enforcement funds from “sanctuary” states and cities that declared they would no longer give federal immigration agents access to their jails or send advance notice before releasing illegal immigrants from their custody. The order was revoked by President Joe Biden on his first day in the White House.