Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Focus, focus, focus -- on immigration

The goal should be simple: make Montana a state that has a climate that discourages illegal immigrants from choosing Montana as a place to live and work, and a climate that is friendly to legal immigrants who want to come to Montana. Wanting to come to Montana does, in and of itself, show good judgment. Who could fail to be moved by Vasily Borodin's dying words in Hunt for Red October: "I would have liked to have seen Montana."

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a bill proposed by Rep. Dennis Himmelberger, R-Billings requiring Montana drivers to understand English so they can read road signs and communicate with law enforcement officers.

Montana Headlines questions, however, whether bills like this cause us to lose focus on the primary task at hand. As we have noted before, we agree with former Montana Secretary of State Bob Brown on this point: Montana is blessed with having had time to learn from the experiences of other states that have long dealt with the effects of illegal immigration. If we fail to use this grace period wisely, it will be a failing of our current legislature that may have longer-reaching impacts than will any other of the failings they devise.

Montana should have a comprehensive package of bills that focus on key issues: requiring citizenship or legal resident status to receive welfare benefits or hold a driver's license, instituting procedures to ensure that only citizens of Montana vote in our elections, establishing laws that require law enforcement officers and other state employees to notify the INS of any illegal immigrants they encounter, and instituting stiff penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants.

English can and should be the official language of Montana, the only language in which state business and public education is done. The concerns that Rep. Himmelberger has about drivers who can't understand English are more than warranted. But if a comprehensive plan as noted above is instituted, that will take care of itself.

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