(Check out DocHoc's views on state education funding in this week's Oklahoma Gazette.)
Here comes “Arizona-Plus.”
Oklahoma and state Rep. Randy Terrill made national news recently when The Washington Post reported on Terrill’s plans to introduce next session anti-illegal immigration legislation even more stringent than the controversial Arizona measure.
The federal government has filed a lawsuit against the Arizona law, which has drawn widespread criticism for condoning racial profiling. The suit argues the Arizona law usurps federal authority.
Undoubtedly, the lawsuit will not deter Terrill, who currently faces a political corruption investigation by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. Terrill has been the leading anti-illegal immigration voice in Oklahoma, sponsoring the draconian House Bill 1804 in 2007, hailed at the time as the toughest state law yet cracking down on illegal immigration.
As The Post article, which points out Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah will soon consider legislation similar to Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration law, notes:
In 2007, Oklahoma led the way on such laws by adopting legislation that makes it a felony to knowingly transport or shelter an illegal immigrant. It also blocked illegal immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses and in-state tuition.
According to The Post, Terrill wants to up the ante of the Arizona law by including a provision that would allow the government to seize assets of companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants. The Arizona law requires people carry immigration documents and allows police to make people prove they are in the country legally.
A majority of Oklahomans will no doubt support Terrill’s efforts, but that doesn’t mean such legislation doesn’t have a negative economic impact and sullies the state’s image as a place of intolerance. After Arizona passed its law, it faced boycotts. Oklahoma just can’t afford economic boycotts. The last thing the state needs to do is further isolate itself.
In the article, Terrill makes the point that the recent arrest here of an alleged Mexican drug cartel member who is allegedly from Arizona just proves that the state needs to get even tougher. He argues Arizona’s illegal immigrants will end up here if the state doesn’t do something.
But besides this arrest, there’s no other evidence that Oklahoma is getting flooded with illegal immigrants because of the Arizona law.
Meanwhile, law-and-order Republicans want the law enforced and big-business Republicans want a cheap labor pool. Union Democrats don’t want illegal immigrants to undercut their wages and other Democrats see the problem rooted in Mexico’s poverty level and feel compassion for people simply seeking menial labor jobs in order to survive.
Illegal immigration is a problem in this country, but it’s a federal issue. The way to solve it is to demand Congress and the president do something about it. Oklahoma has no business being out front on this issue. The state needs growth, and it should present itself as a welcoming place. Does that mean the state should encourage illegal immigration? Absolutely not. But the state shouldn’t situate itself as intolerant either.
All of us are immigrants
Every daughter, every son
Everyone is everyone
All of us are immigrants
Everyone—from City of Immigrants by Steve Earle
What Arizona can do, we can do stricter.
That could be the rallying cry for a group of Oklahoma legislators who want to pass a stricter anti-illegal immigration law than the controversial measure recently passed in Arizona.
The Arizona bill, which requires police officers to check documents of anyone they suspect is here illegally, has drawn lawsuits, protests and economic boycotts, but that’s not going to stop conservative lawmakers here from going down the same road.
In a tangible sense, the Arizona bill sanctions racial profiling, primarily of Hispanic people, and creates a type of police state that should alarm everyone no matter what they feel about illegal immigrants. (The law was modified Thursday to supposedly prevent racial profiling.) Will we all have to carry extra paperwork soon and be subject to random questioning by police because we look or talk a certain way? It’s really not that far-fetched.
According to media reports, state Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore) and other lawmakers want the same law here only they want to up the ante by confiscating vehicles of illegal immigrants and preventing automatic citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants. They want to pass it this session.
Terrill, of course, is the author of controversial House Bill 1804, passed in 2007, which gave Oklahoma the strictest anti-illegal immigration law in the country. That bill has also drawn legal challenges and protests.
Oklahoma faces a major budget crisis. Next year’s budget has a gaping $800-$850 million shortfall. State employees, including educators, face furloughs and layoffs. Mental health services have been cut.
Yet the law-and-order conservative crowd here wants to drag this state deeper into a financial hole through hateful, intolerant legislation that reeks of racism. If such a bill passes, expect the same reaction Arizona received. The state will have to fight costly lawsuits, the convention business in Oklahoma and Tulsa will experience cancellations, American cities, such as San Francisco, El Paso and New York, could literally stop doing business here.
Does Oklahoma really want to isolate itself from the rest of the world? Why doesn’t the corporate power structure in this state come to the rescue and stop propping up the GOP? Is this type of controversial legislation good for businesses here? Is there a breaking point?
The American Civil Liberties Union denounced the proposal and state Rep. Ryan Kiesel (D-Seminole) spoke out forcefully against it, but historically Oklahomans have supported strict anti-illegal immigration laws and this is an election year. If the bill is passed, the best chance to stop it will be in the Senate, which consists of 26 Republicans and 22 Democrats. If it makes it through the Senate, Gov. Brad Henry should veto it.
Congress has failed the American people by refusing to pass comprehensive immigration reform that would bring illegal immigrants out in the open and give them a chance for citizenship. The Arizona bill and the Oklahoma proposal is what you end up with.
Oklahoma’s new anti-illegal immigration law, the strictest such legislation in the country, continues to draw opposition as Hispanic people, according to some, leave the state in droves.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has filed a lawsuit claiming House Bill 1804, passed last year by the legislature, interferes with federal law. Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include The State Chamber of Oklahoma, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, Tulsa Metro Chamber, Oklahoma Restaurant Association and Oklahoma Hotel and Lodging Association.
The bill denies state services to illegal immigrants and forces businesses to verify the immigration status of their employees. Ultimately, the bill can be seen as a legal crackdown on businesses, which employ illegal immigrants. Many of the state’s illegal immigrants are Hispanic and work in construction and at restaurants.
In a statement issued about the lawsuit, the chamber argues that “piecemeal immigration laws are not the answer, and that Congress needs to enact comprehensive federal immigration reform."
It is unclear if the chamber lawsuit can be successful. An earlier lawsuit based on a constitutional challenge has been dismissed.
Meanwhile, state Rep. David Braddock (D-Altus), pictured right, said he will introduce legislation this session to repeal provisions of the law, according to media reports. Braddock said farmers and business in his district are suffering financially because “a lot of the labor force just picked up and left — legal and illegal” after the bill was passed.
Braddock told a reporter: "They're absolutely afraid of staying here. They think Oklahoma doesn't want them. I don't think that's what Oklahoma is about.” But Braddock conceded his bill stands little chance of being considered.
Meanwhile, the sponsor of HB 1804, state Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore) said the opponents of the bill are promoting “modern-day slavery.” But this leaves out the fact that those seeking work here are often impoverished and cannot find jobs in their home countries. Should we send them back to live in poverty? So the “dialogue” goes on the issue.
There are no reliable figures on how many illegal and legal immigrants have left the state. Anecdotal evidence from Hispanic organizations, businesses who serve the Hispanic community and construction industry spokespeople suggests there has been a substantial exodus. This is problematic for the state’s economic development and its image. It makes the state seem intolerant. The bill also puts Oklahoma at a disadvantage economically with some surrounding states.
As I argued earlier, strong opposition to the bill has come mainly after it was passed. All the problems created by the bill—lack of workers for farming and construction, for example—were accurately predicted over the last two years.
Most people agree that illegal immigration is a problem in this country, but it remains a federal issue. Here are some of the questions: What impact do illegal immigrants have on wages in this country? How do we document the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in this country? How much money will it cost to find and possibly even arrest all of the nation’s illegal immigrants? How can Mexico improve its economy? How do we rationally and logically—not just symbolically with a wall or border fence—improve border security?
One of the main problems is the fracture between pro-business and law-and-order Republicans over the issue of a guest worker program. Republican presidential candidate John McCain, for example, has supported a guest worker program for illegal immigrants in the past, but the law-and-order wing will not budge on the issue. All this drama is now played out in the state as both sides hurl “modern-day slavery” and “racism” charges at each other.
Ultimately, though, Oklahoma is only hurting itself with this new law. Typical.