Harsh State Laws; Might Congress Now Be Prompted to Enact Comprehensive Immigration Reform?
November 7, 2007

Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry signed a bill in May that invokes tough measures enabling the state of Oklahoma to combat illegal immigration. The law, which is entitled the “Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2007” takes effect November 1, 2007. The Act states that “illegal immigration is causing economic hardship and lawlessness in this state” and includes the following new laws:

  • making it unlawful to transport/conceal/shelter any immigrant that has “come to, entered or remained in the U.S. in violation of law”. Breaking this law could result in a year or more of prison or fines exceeding $1,000.00,
  • specifying which public and private entities can create identification documents,
  • instructing law enforcement to determine the citizenship of persons charged with felonies or with driving under the influence. If the person is not a U.S. citizen, his/her immigration status must be determined. If the person is not in legal immigration status, the Department of Homeland Security is to be contacted.
  • requiring that employers use a “Status verification system” and requiring that contracting entities obtain status proof from independent contractors,
  • limiting public benefits to immigrants not in legal status,
  • limiting higher education opportunities to immigrants not in legal status and
  • allowing the state government to create a Memo of understanding with the federal government to ensure enforcement of federal immigration laws within the state.

The National Coalition of Latino Clergy & Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC) is spearheading legal efforts to challenge the constitutionality of the law in the Northern District Court of Oklahoma, stating that the law is unfair to all immigrants, legal and undocumented. (The first lawsuit was dismissed on the grounds that CONLAMIC did not have standing to sue as the organization has not been injured by the law. CONLAMIC filed a new complaint on October 25, 2007, which added corporate and individual plaintiffs, seeking an emergency hearing to request an injunction against the law taking effect. The Judge denied the motion for injunction. The government is expected to soon file a motion dismissing the suit.)

Governor Henry said that he reluctantly signed the bill because he feels it will ultimately be the responsibility of the federal government to pass measures that will succeed in curbing illegal immigration. However, efforts of this kind by Oklahoma and other states such as Missouri certainly succeed in frightening, intimidating and punishing undocumented immigrant populations and those who employ them. Whether or not laws like Oklahoma’s will motivate Congress to address the issue in a comprehensive manner remains to be seen.

Copyright © 2007-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois