January 03, 2008

Oklahoma’s HB-1804 Law is a Redundant Focus for Policymakers

Law aimed at illegal immigration shifts attention away from education, roads, the economy, and healthcare

Since 911, many Americans have been concerned about illegal immigration primarily due to fear of terrorism. As Americans, do we want the assurance that we are safe from another attack? Yes. Is that a problem that a state policymaker will or should resolve? I don’t think so. Why are policymakers in Oklahoma spending so much time on the issue of illegal immigration?

Investigation of our national security protocols have uncovered the gross dysfunction of our nations immigration system, which has concerned us all, but has also motivated anti-immigrant groups and individuals (a minority) to speak passionately of their desire for Congress to ‘crack down’ on illegal immigration. Eventually, the focus shifted away from terrorists and on Hispanic migrant workers and others who come to the United States to live peacefully and work hard in this country. Meanwhile, Congress failed to come to an agreement on a solution that would fix the dysfunctional system and now a handful of states including Oklahoma have spent a great deal of time and taxpayer money on the issue. That is, the issue of illegal immigration…primarily targeting Hispanics rather than terrorists.

Should Oklahoma’s policymakers spend valuable time (2 years) working on policies that may or may not fix a problem that may or may not exist in the state? According to the recent voter opinion poll conducted by the University of Tulsa, 16% view immigration as a priority issue. Clearly this does not tell us that the majority of citizens want to shift the focus on immigration and away from education and other issues. Are voters concerned with a brown person who speaks Spanish as they landscape their neighbor’s yard that may or may not have a green card more than they are about the roads they face daily that are unsafe and need repair? Honestly, don’t voters care more about the absurdity of having to pay lofty taxes for those same deteriorating roads? Absolutely.

Rep. Randy Terrill has made a mountain out of a mole hill on this immigration issue. He convinced the state to focus on this issue regardless of the fact that a relatively small number of illegal aliens live in the state and are not eligible to receive public benefits such as healthcare, and less than 1% populate the state prison system. Terrill now says he is planning to focus his time on creating a new immigration law using taxpayer money that will make English the official language of Oklahoma. I’m certain Terrill is aware that 92.6% of Oklahomans speak only English. He does his homework, so he probably is also aware that statistics show that immigrants largely seek to learn English anyway. So what is his true motivation?

I am astounded that policymakers are spending time on issues that take away from the focus on the health and safety of Oklahoma’s citizens. The voter opinion poll also found that voters feel that immigration is shifting attention away from the issue of education. Terrill recently said that he plans to work on challenging the constitutional amendment that allows all children the right to access K-12 education. This is absurd. How will this improve Oklahoman’s quality of life? This is likely an effort to garner more attention.

An Oklahoma Judge recently dismissed a lawsuit that would halt HB-1804’s implementation due to lack of evidence showing that hardship has been caused by the law. Did you know that Randy Terrill failed to provide evidence that illegal immigration has caused economic hardship or lawlessness in Oklahoma?

I hope that Oklahoma’s leaders will soon shift back to the issues that will truly make a difference in the lives of its citizens. Drafting ‘English-only’ laws that limit Native American’s from preserving their languages is not a better focus than improving the quality of education or healthcare.

HB-1804 makes it possible to punish a Good Samaritan for giving a pregnant woman and her family a ride to town on a hot day as its now considered “transporting an alien in reckless disregard for their illegal immigration status”.

Ultimately, I believe that Oklahoma voters will support the leaders who work on the issues that are important to their families and communities, including road improvement, quality of education, the economy, lowering taxes, and improving healthcare rather than on redundancy.

Reverend Miguel Rivera is the President of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy & Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC), America’s leading Hispanic Christian advocacy organization, based in Washington, DC with a Tulsa-based chapter that represents Hispanic Christians throughout Oklahoma.

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