Javier Flores considers himself an “accidental immigrant.”
At age 9, his father hired someone to smuggle him and six other family members across the U.S.-Mexico border. For two years, Flores was in the country illegally until he was able to obtain resident status, and later took extra English courses in high school and college to learn the language.
On Nov. 17, he became an American citizen at a ceremony in Oklahoma City.
“It felt surreal because this is something I’ve been working for since 1989,” Flores said. “I can vote; I can be treated equally like everybody else.”
Though Flores said he supports some of the immigration reform in recent years, he is concerned that an Arizona-style immigration reform bill that certain legislators have expressed interest in pursuing will mean one thing.
“I think it’s going to increase racial profiling,” said Flores, who lives in Tulsa. “I know the law says it’s not about racial profiling — it’s about making sure no terrorists are in the country — but I think the law will focus on Hispanics. I think people are going to start leaving Oklahoma.”
But legislation dubbed “Arizona-plus” is likely not the only bill dealing with immigration that will be introduced this legislative session.
‘HOLY GRAIL’ OF DEBATE
State Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, told Oklahoma Gazette that besides introducing an Arizona-plus law, he plans to unveil legislation on Jan. 5 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., that will deny birthright citizenship to children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrant parents.
The wording of the legislation has not yet been finalized, but Terrill said he is looking at three ways of approaching the issue. The first looks at state documents, specifically birth certificates, issued to children born in Oklahoma to illegal immigrant parents. The second approach is to look at the benefits and immunities associated with state citizenship. The third is to form an interstate compact to force Congress to act on the issue, Terrill said.
“We haven’t decided which one of those we’ll ultimately pick,” he said. “We may do one, or we may do all of them.”
Terrill said the current practice of granting citizenship to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants is based on a misin terpretation of the 14th Amendment and is one of the main reasons illegal immigrants come to the United States, besides job opportunities and social benefits.
“I would describe the birthrightcitizenship-anchor-baby phenomena as perhaps the Holy Grail of the illegal immigration debate,” Terrill said, adding that he’s under no illusions that the bill won’t provoke some strong feelings. “I expect it will get some attention.”
In addition, Terrill said he plans to introduce legislation this session that will require schools to document how many students are illegal immigrants and the state Department of Education to quantify how much it costs to educate those students.
Terrill, the architect of House Bill 1804 — the 2007 legislation that thrust Oklahoma into the spotlight for immigration reform — said the latter legislation may eventually set up a challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe, in which the court struck down a Texas statute that barred education funding for children who are in the country illegally.
“It gets to the heart of the question whether states can be forced to educate children who are illegal immigrants,” Terrill said. “I think that through some education transparency initiatives, you’re going to see a lot of states laying the groundwork to present a challenge to the Plyler v. Doe case.
“I guess the bottom line is you cannot change what you do not quantify.”
The legislation would not individually identify the children, nor would it deny them an education, Terrill said, but it would require exploration into whether providing education services for those children has a negative impact on children who are U.S. citizens.
The Arizona law, which is being challenged by a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice, raised the hackles of many when it was passed, resulting in protests and boycotts of the state by businesses and municipalities.
Among the law’s more controversial aspects are provisions allowing police officers to check the citizenship status of individuals stopped for a separate infraction.
Terrill said he hopes to file legislation mirroring much of the Arizona law, and going beyond it by penalizing those transporting illegal immigrants and allowing property associated with the crime, such as a vehicle, to be auctioned off, with the proceeds given to law enforcement. The process would be much like asset forfei tures in drug cases, Terrill said.
“We want to go beyond what Arizona has done,” Terrill said. “It would essentially treat an illegal alien as human contraband.”
This legislation will likely be filed by the end of January, Terrill said.
Incoming House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, has said he would like to focus on economic issues over others like immigration, a position that angered some Republicans who said they felt other important parts of the party’s agenda were being abandoned.
After a Dec. 7 meeting of Republican House members in Bartlesville, Steele and Terrill both said they believe the Legislature can focus on more than just economic issues.
“My caucus is very interested in protecting Oklahoma values and constitutional rights, so we will take a balanced approached as we consider all of these issues,” Steele said in Oklahoma City at a Dec. 8 preview of the upcoming legislative session.
At the meeting, which was hosted by the State Chamber, Steele did not mention immigration reform, and neither did designated Senate floor leader Mike Schulz, R-Altus, or Republican Gov.-elect Mary Fallin, though Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, voiced his concerns.
“I’m worried about what that will do to my district, to the neighborhoods from south of the river to Sen. (Ralph) Shortey’s district, where a lot of Hispanic families, many of whom are here legally, will leave the city,” Rice said.
Rice said Washington should act on immigration reform that is fair to those already in the country.
“That’s where the solution is,” Rice said. “The state of Oklahoma can’t really fashion together a reform bill ourselves because it’s a federal issue. It leaves the door open for this Arizona stuff, which doesn’t really do anything other than just scare people.”
Fallin said during her campaign that she supports an Arizona-style law in Oklahoma.
When asked by the Gazette if she supports similar legislation in Oklahoma, Fallin said she supports Arizona’s intent.
“I support what Arizona is trying to do, which is enforce the federal law,” Fallin said. “I can’t commit to any legislation until I’ve seen the language to it, but I certainly support the intent of what Arizona is trying to do to make sure they know who is coming in and out and enforcing the federal law.”
Terrill said he is confident Fallin would sign such legislation.
“I can tell you with some degree of certainty based on her campaign promises and private discussions with her and her office, I can say she would be more than willing to sign that into law here in Oklahoma,” Terrill said. “I think Gov.-elect Fallin gets it.”
However, such a law could result in unlawful traffic stops, racial profiling and boycotting of the state by outside municipalities and businesses, said Tamya Cox, program director and legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma.
“We obviously will vehemently oppose any such bill,” Cox said. “The impact will be (where) police officers waste time and racially profile Oklahoma citizens and potential Oklahoma citizens asking about papers.”