Oklahoma’s new anti-illegal immigration law, touted by its promoters as one of the strictest in the nation, has created a huge quagmire in the state and will wreak havoc with businesses, farmers, law enforcement departments, social service agencies and, of course, the Hispanic community.
But House Bill 1804, sponsored by state Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore), was designed exactly to create this quagmire, and the Oklahoma leadership—in another colossal error—has failed miserably to temper Terrill or even plan sufficiently for the bill’s effects. All the moaning and groaning is coming after the fact.
Essentially the bill holds people legally liable for helping undocumented workers. It urges law enforcement to deport illegal workers. It denies, with rare exceptions, public social services and health care to people here illegally. The philosophy behind the bill is not covert or tangled up in rhetoric. The philosophy is that illegal immigrants are not welcome in Oklahoma. Period. It says, “Get out now and do not come back” to non-citizens without appropriate documentation.
It is difficult to dispute that Terrill’s bill and its supporters have overwhelming support in the state. The bill passed by large margins in the House and Senate. It was signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry. Illegal immigration is an emotional issue for many state residents, who feel they have to obey laws while non-citizens do not. They also feel illegal immigrants depress their wages and take their jobs. This cuts between the lines of both major political parties.
Consequently, no matter what you think about the new law, the ideals of democracy and majority rule demand it be enforced. All we can do now is plan for the fallout.
Here are some of the problem areas:
(1) Certain state businesses, such as construction, roofing and landscaping companies and others, will be put at a decided disadvantage with similar out-of-state businesses, which can employ undocumented workers in their home states. How will this affect overall prices here? Will it be significant or negligible? How will it affect the housing market? Mike Means, executive vice president of the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association, was quoted recently about the issue in the Washington Post. Means says “…we're looking at a labor shortage. I've got builders who are being forced to slow down jobs because they don't have the crews. And it's not like these people are going back to Mexico. They're going to Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Arkansas, anywhere where the laws aren't against them."
(2) Some farmers throughout the state have relied on illegal migrant workers for years. Will this put more small farms out of business here? How will this affect Oklahomans? Will it impact our rural communities, many of which are losing population? The state already has a low ranking for sustainability. One of the major components of sustainability is locally grown food. Will the law impact this issue?
(3) How should law enforcement agencies deal with the new law? Both Oklahoma City Police Chief William Citty and Texas County Sheriff Arnold Peoples, who is in Guymon, say the law is problematic. The questions are simple: Are there enough law enforcement officers to investigate and arrest undocumented workers? How much money will it cost? What about the issue of racial profiling? Peoples was quoted in The Oklahoman recently about the issue. He said, “"This law is one of those things where it sounds good when you're banging your fist against a desk. And say this is what we're doing about it. But it doesn't fix anything. It just creates a bigger problem.”
(4) How should social service and health agencies deal with indigent, undocumented workers? The Oklahoma Health Care Authority, for example, recently voted to provide prenatal care to illegal immigrants. Terrill says it is illegal. How should we resolve the issue? In addition, sources tell Okie Funk that thousands of people will be denied services under the law, and that it is causing a great deal of consternation and grief among many social workers, who went into their field to help people. The issue has the potential to create morale problems and divisiveness.
(5) What will be the toll in the Hispanic communities in the state? Many Hispanic people feel they are being targeted as scapegoats. One Hispanic leader, the Rev. Miguel Rivera, leader of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy, called those who support the law "guilty of ethnic cleansing.” This is hyped rhetoric, for sure, but it represents a growing sentiment in the Hispanic community that their neighbors have turned against them. Will our Hispanic communities ultimately be devastated by the law? Will Hispanic people—citizens, non-citizens, and undocumented workers—simply move from the state? What will be the impact on our culture and our overall sense of morality if this happens? What will be the legacy of all this and how will it affect the state’s reputation?
The law has been challenged once in court, but the lawsuit was dismissed. Watch for more lawsuits and more fallout. This Oklahoma spectacle is not going away anytime soon.
State Sen. Kenneth Corn’s proposal to offer free tuition to Oklahoma community college students is the type of progressive legislation this state needs to push forward.
Oklahoma consistently ranks below the national average in college graduates. Most state leaders agree that creating more college graduates would help improve the state’s quality of life and economic development. Offering free tuition to community college students is an obvious way to help high school graduates to at least try college.
Corn, a Democrat from Poteau, says he wants the $20 million initiative to build on tuition programs already offered at Oklahoma City Community College and Tulsa Community College, according to a news report.
Let’s see if the Oklahoma leadership—Democratic and Republican—gets behind Corn’s relatively inexpensive proposal, which should be just one of many initiatives to produce more Oklahoma college graduates and improve funding for higher education next legislative session.
Presidential candidate John Edwards continues to get a lot of support from Oklahoma.
Edwards leads in polls here over all the major Democratic and Republican candidates for president, and he has now picked up the endorsement of Labor Commissioner Lloyd Fields and Transport Workers Union Local 514.
Some political observers predict Edwards will win the Feb. 5 Democratic primary here.
Rice Campaign Has Momentum
State Sen. Andrew Rice (D-Oklahoma City) raised more than $300,000 for his U.S. Senate campaign last quarter.
He barely trailed U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe in fundraising. Rice raised $304, 656. Inhofe raised $346,172.
According to the Rice camp, “… Sen. Rice only kicked off his campaign a month before the end of the quarter, raising almost as much as Jim Inhofe from individuals in 60 days of fundraising (vs a full quarter). It's clear – real Oklahomans want a change.”
(You want to know why you have lousy health insurance or no health insurance? Watch this exclusive Okie Funk video. Turn up the speakers.)
The health care system in this country is broken, and it needs massive and sustained reform.
When Democrats and Republicans joined together recently to vote to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) from $5 billion to $35 billion over five years, they did so out of this pressing and vital need. The bill’s underlying philosophy is that we, as Americans, should at least take care of our children in terms of health care so they can thrive and become our future.
Many working people these days cannot afford health insurance. Those who can afford it often pay exorbitant co-payments and deductibles. Most Americans, even those with health insurance, are one major medical crisis away from financial ruin. Many working Americans go without adequate health care because it is simply too expensive.
The American health care system is based on feeding the greed of many doctors, insurance companies and health management organizations. European models of health care have proven to be much more successful than our system. They are less expensive and provide better care to their patients. Doctors in European countries are also well compensated.
Yet Imperial President George Bush, with support from his warmongering cabal of right-wing extremists, vetoed the bill on purely ideological grounds despite wide majority support. The bill, according to the president, could lead to socialized medicine. Note the word “could.” There is nothing in the bill, which simply insures more children, that argues for socialized medicine or universal health care. There is no trick here, no gimmick. People need health care. SCHIP is a program that helps people ensure their children. The program’s expansion would mean more children qualify for help.
Consider this: Taxpayers spend more in three months for the Iraq occupation than they would spend over five years for this one program. (Look at this site for more comparisons.)
The Oklahoma Congressional delegation voted against SCHIP, of course, on the same ideological grounds as the president they so adore. The Daily Oklahoman has relentlessly editorialized their support for the veto. To his credit, U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, the only Democrat in the delegation, has said he will now reverse course and vote to override the veto in the House. The House will vote on the veto override tomorrow, but the effort is expected to fail. There are apparently enough votes in the Senate to override Bush’s callous disregard for basic humanity.
But should we blame just the politicians? Bush’s veto, if sustained, will go down in historical infamy, for sure, but it also will be remembered as the one event that clearly showed Americans lost their moral foundation at the turn of the twenty-first century. We deny our children adequate health care, test them relentlessly under No Child Left Behind, leave them massive financial deficits, and make them grow up under the philosophy of endless war. That is who we have become under the Imperial Presidency of George Bush.
(Update: The House fell 13 votes short Thursday of overriding Bush's veto)