A Helena immigration attorney estimates there at least 20,000 immigrants in Montana; some are here legally, others not.
Shahid Haque-Hausrath says some are working in eastern Montana's oil patch. Seasonal workers are a staple of the Flathead cherry harvest. Immigrants perform year-round agricultural labor in Dillon. Others work construction jobs in Billings and the Gallatin Valley.
Haque-Hausrath says President Obama's recent executive action on immigration came as a welcome development to his clients.
"The executive action primarily effects parents of U.S. citizens who are themselves undocumented. The simple fact is that every parent's worst nightmare is to be separated from their children and not to be able to watch them grow up," said Haque-Hausrath.
"They fear having to return to countries like Guatamala, or Mexico which is seeing a rise in crime. So, I'm hearing tears of joy from parents who are excited they will soon have a path to get a work authorization card and be free from the fear of deportation.
"One particular client came here to the United States when she was only 2-years-old. Her father was actually a beneficiary of President Reagan's amnesty way back in the 1980's. He was able to get amnesty through Reagan's program, but he didn't sign his daughter up for it. I guess he didn't know she wouldn't be automatically included when he was. So she missed out on that amnesty and has been pretty much without status and un-documented ever since then. She has 3 kids who are U.S. citizens and she's lived her entire life in fear of deportation, but now she can come forward, get a work authorization card and feel safe that she wont be deported."
"There are many other clients in the same situation, with U.S. citizen children. Some of them were able to get work authorization through President Obama's last executive action which was targeted at kids who came in when they were under 16. I've had plenty of parents who had kids who were now able to have status, but they had multiple children. So some of them entered illegally, but they had children who were U.S. citizens. For those types of mixed status families, now the parents can finally breathe a sigh of relief and remain here, making a difference for a lot of families here in Montana."
Haque-Hausrath says that immigrants are contributing and paying their way.
"Often times, these immigrants are actually creating jobs. There are business owners here who are actually employing Montanans. Besides that, the income they earn and generate, they spend in their community. They're part of our communities, just like the rest of us. They contribute to our economy here. They're not leeching or taking away, they're paying their fair share of taxes and now that they're able to come out of the shadows they'll be able to pay taxes even more easily."
Haque-Hausrath is confident that the executive action is legal.
"It's certainly one of the largest executive actions a president has done on the issue of immigration. That being said, the precedent is there for presidents to be able to decide how to enforce the laws and what discretion to utilize when doing that. So, it's pretty firmly established that this is a legal course of action.
"The legality of it is not going to really be the issue. I think what is going to be the issue here is how we go from here and whether an immigration reform bill may actually be passed that would whittle back these benefits or change them in some way. Politically it may be unpopular and effect some of the President's choices later on, but the legality is pretty clear in my view."