Minuteman Founder Says Latino Groups Spreading Fear
By: Jim Gilchrist
MINUTEMAN FOUNDER SAYS LATINO GROUPS SPREAD FEAR AFTER OKLAHOMA GOVERNOR SIGNS SWEEPING IMMIGRATION REFORM BILL
OKLAHOMA CITY â€” 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 nationâ€™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 fallâ€™s round of state legislative and congressional elections.
â€œIllegal immigration is a very serious national security issue that must be addressed at the federal level,â€ Henry said. â€œStates 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.â€
State lawmakers praised Henryâ€™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.
â€œThis important new immigration reform ensures weâ€™re upholding the rule of law in Oklahoma. Our citizens deserve nothing less,â€ said House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah.
The measureâ€™s author, Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, credited public outcry at the federal governmentâ€™s inability to address illegal immigration for his measureâ€™s success.
â€œIâ€™m glad the governor received the message,â€ Terrill said. â€œIt puts Oklahoma effectively at the forefront in the state-level immigration reform movement.â€
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.
â€œThere 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,â€ 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.
â€œItâ€™s going to take us back,â€ Madrid said. â€œIâ€™m sure thereâ€™s going to be neighbors turning neighbors in.â€
LULAC and other agencies that serve Latino communities are considering challenging the new lawâ€™s constitutionality because immigration policy is the responsibility of the federal government, not the state, Madrid said.
Ed Romo, vice president of LULAC, said the legislation is reminiscent of the Jim Crow laws directed at blacks in in the American South prior to federal civil rights legislation.
â€œOur concern is this goes too far,â€ Romo said. â€œIf you dehumanize humans, itâ€™s easy to mistreat them.â€
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.
â€œThis is a bad bill. But we live in a political world,â€ Fennell said. â€œThis bill is not going to solve one thing on immigration.â€
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 applicantâ€™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 driverâ€™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.
â€œWhile 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,â€ Henry said.
SOURCE: The Joplin Globe