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Oklahoma: Lawmaker Leads Campaign to Drive Out Illegal Entrants as Issue Touches Home in States Far From the U.S. Border

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Oklahoma: Lawmaker Leads Campaign to Drive Out Illegal Entrants as Issue Touches Home in States Far From the U.S. Border
Immigration Debate Flares in Oklahoma

Oklahoma: Lawmaker Leads Campaign to Drive Out Illegal Entrants as Issue Touches Home in States Far From the U.S. Border

BY MIRIAM JORDAN May 10, 2010 Wall Street Journal

OKLAHOMA CITY—Oklahoma is far from the border and home to fewer illegal immigrants than much of the U.S. But this heartland state has emerged as the most aggressive combatant of illegal immigration alongside Arizona, thanks to a state lawmaker who has built his political career around the issue.

Arizona sparked a nationwide controversy by approving a law last month that makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally and requires police to question people they stop about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are in the country illegally. On Sunday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the federal government was weighing a lawsuit to challenge the law.

But in Oklahoma, meanwhile, state Rep. Randy Terrill, a Republican, has in the past few years pushed through a series of measures to try to drive out illegal immigrants, whom he blames for economic hardship and lawlessness in his state.

“Federal inaction has functionally turned every state into a border state,” Mr. Terrill said. “You are going to see an increasing number of states doing what Arizona and Oklahoma are doing.”

To his detractors, Mr. Terrill is a political opportunist who is using illegal immigration to inflame passions and win votes. To his supporters, he is a model for how state lawmakers can take control of immigration.

Oklahoma is the gold standard for us. Terrill is leading the way,” said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, known as FAIR, a national organization that is a major proponent of states pursuing measures to curb immigration.

The issue had surfaced only sporadically at the state level since California passed Proposition 187 in 1994 to deny public services to illegal immigrants; the law was later ruled unconstitutional.

In the late 1990s, undocumented Latin Americans began settling beyond the Southwest and California. In Oklahoma’s panhandle, they found work at pig farms. In Tulsa and Oklahoma City, they took jobs in construction and hospitality. Oklahoma’s overall Latino population, both legal and undocumented, swelled 187% between 1990 and 2007, the fastest-growing group. Undocumented immigrants numbered about 40,000 to 100,000 in 2008, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

Mr. Terrill, first elected to the Oklahoma House in 2004 to represent a bedroom community of Oklahoma City called Moore, said his constituents began questioning him about the influx. “I thought, ‘Why not do something?’ ” he recalls, “and I started piecing together a bill.”

His first immigration bill in 2006 was deemed too harsh and failed. The next year, he drafted the Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2007 to eliminate most public assistance and taxpayer-funded benefits for illegal immigrants and to discourage employers from hiring them. It passed, and is among the most far-reaching illegal-immigrant laws at the state level.

The measure made it a felony to assist or transport any undocumented person for commercial purposes; prohibited illegal immigrants from getting a driver’s license or any form of state identification; and directed local law enforcement to step up cooperation with federal authorities on immigration enforcement.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, along with the chambers of Tulsa and Oklahoma City, successfully defeated two employer-related sections in federal court, including one that required businesses to verify the work eligibility of individuals hired as independent contractors. The court upheld a provision requiring state contractors to use an electronic verification system to check whether new hires can work legally in the U.S. Another portion of the bill remains stuck in court.

The law created “a culture of fear,” said Richard Klinge, chief counsel for Oklahoma City’s Catholic Charities, which helps immigrants and refugees. He and other advocates said it also provided an opening for anti-immigrant sentiment to flourish in Oklahoma.

Mr. Terrill said his goal was to discourage new illegal immigrants from coming and encourage those already in the state to leave.

The law “is cruel,” said an undocumented construction worker who gave his name only as Gabriel. After 11 years working in the U.S., paying taxes and buying a home, he said, his family life was destroyed last year because his eldest son and then his wife were deported within months of each other after separate police stops.

Mr. Terrill, 40 years old, condenses his views on the issue into phrases, such as, “Flagrant illegal immigration threatens the very integrity of our Republic.”

He won a landslide victory in the Republican primary in 2008, which he said validated his illegal-immigrant crusade.
“I voted for him,” said Yvonne Lowell, a resident of Mr. Terrill’s district, while shopping at a department store in Moore the other day. “Everywhere I go,” she said, there are immigrants who aren’t “paying their fair share.”

Last year, Mr. Terrill successfully introduced several narrower measures, including one that halted Spanish-language drivers’ tests and another that imposed a $5 fee on every overseas money wire transfer.

“My idea is to slowly but surely roll down the welcome mat for illegals,” Mr. Terrill said during an interview at the state capitol. Latin Americans, he said, won’t acculturate as did previous waves of U.S. immigrants.

In coming weeks, Mr. Terrill said he planned to introduce a bill similar to Arizona’s new law, making illegal immigration a state crime. His legislation would add asset-seizure and forfeiture provisions for immigration-related crimes and harsher penalties for undocumented immigrants caught with weapons.

Soon, he plans to attack birthright citizenship, which he describes as the “holy grail of illegal immigration.” The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that anyone born in the U.S. is a citizen. Mr. Terrill said it was “intended to give freed slaves citizenship,” not confer it upon the children of undocumented immigrants.

[link to oneoldvet.com]