Tuesday, May 08, 2007
By TIM TALLEY Associated Press Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Gov. Brad Henry signed a sweeping immigration reform bill Tuesday, describing it as a stopgap measure to deal with an illegal immigration problem that is actually the responsibility of the federal government.
The legislation, described as the nation's most meaningful attempt to deny jobs and public benefits to illegal immigrants, passed the House and Senate by overwhelming margins and was one of the key issues in last fall's round of state legislative and congressional elections.
"Illegal immigration is a very serious national security issue that must be addressed at the federal level," Henry said. "States can take some actions on their own, but until the U.S. Congress enacts a comprehensive, national immigration policy, citizens will see little progress on this issue."
State lawmakers praised Henry's action. Supporters had urged Henry to sign the measure into law since it received final passage in a bipartisan 84-14 vote by the state House last week. The bill was approved 41-6 by the Senate last month.
"This important new immigration reform ensures we're upholding the rule of law in Oklahoma. Our citizens deserve nothing less," said House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah.
The measure's author, Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, credited public outcry at the federal government's inability to address illegal immigration for his measure's success.
"I'm glad the governor received the message," Terrill said. "It puts Oklahoma effectively at the forefront in the state-level immigration reform movement."
More than 100,000 illegal immigrants are estimated to live in Oklahoma. The Federation of American Immigration Reform has said they cost state taxpayers up to $200 million a year in public benefits, law enforcement costs and other resources.
"There are many Oklahomans who work hard and play by the rules every day, but they still struggle to make ends meet. Those are the people we should be looking out for," Cargill said.
Immigrant groups said the measure is was a vain attempt to stop illegal immigration and urged Henry to veto it.
Ray Madrid, state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the legislation may burden Latinos with new discriminatory barriers in housing and jobs.
"It's going to take us back," Madrid said. "I'm sure there's going to be neighbors turning neighbors in."
LULAC and other agencies that serve Latino communities are considering challenging the new law's constitutionality because immigration policy is the responsibility of the federal government, not the state, Madrid said.
Pat Fennell, executive director of the Latino Community Development Agency in Oklahoma City, said Henry was forced to sign the bill because the overwhelming support it received in the Legislature made an override likely.
"This is a bad bill. But we live in a political world," Fennell said. "This bill is not going to solve one thing on immigration."
The legislation builds on measures passed by other states but focuses on deterring unauthorized employment. Among other things, it contains employment, labor law and civil rights provisions to protect citizens and legal immigrants who lose their jobs at companies that employ illegal immigrants to perform the same or similar work.
The measure targets employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens in order to gain a competitive advantage. Key elements of the bill focus on determining worker eligibility, including technology called the Basic Pilot program, which screens Social Security numbers to make sure they are real and that they match up with the job applicant's name.
Created by the federal government to verify the eligibility of government employees, use of the program is mandated in Georgia, authorities said. It is free to employers who voluntarily sign up.
Public agencies will be required to use the program beginning Nov. 1 and private companies by July 1, 2008.
The measure would also limit state driver's licenses and identity cards to citizens and legal immigrants and would require state and local agencies to verify the citizenship and immigration status of applicants for state or local benefits.
It also retains an in-state tuition program for children of illegal immigrants attending state colleges and universities. The measure now allows students to continue paying in-state tuition but new applicants must apply for citizenship within one year.
The measure would not affect emergency medical and humanitarian services, such as visits to hospital emergency rooms and enrollment in public schools, that are required by federal law.
Henry urged lawmakers to closely monitor the impact of the bill to make sure it does not have unintended consequences.
"While some will undoubtedly claim this state legislation is a landmark step forward, the truth of the matter is we will not effectively address immigration reform until the federal government acts," Henry said.
Also see this link for TV coverage from Oklahoma featuring Dan Howard from OutragedPatriots.com
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