Thursday, July 8, 2010

Will Oklahoma Follow Arizona's Lead?

From The Washington Post ~ Attention is focused on Arizona and the federal government's challenge to the state's strict new immigration law, but three other states could adopt similar legislation next year.

Lawmakers in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah, which have already taken steps against illegal immigration, say that Arizona-style measures have a realistic chance of passing when their legislatures reconvene in 2011.

The Obama administration sued Arizona in federal court Tuesday, charging that the state law usurps federal authority, would hamper immigration enforcement and would lead to police harassment of those who have no proof of lawful status. The government asked that a federal judge stop the law from taking effect July 29.

Legislators in at least 17 other states introduced bills this year similar to the Arizona law, which allows officers to question anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. But most of those measures are not considered likely to be adopted or signed by governors.

The political climate in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah, however, improves the chances that state legislatures there could follow Arizona's lead in 2011.

In 2007, Oklahoma led the way on such laws by adopting legislation that makes it a felony to knowingly transport or shelter an illegal immigrant. It also blocked illegal immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses and in-state tuition.

State Rep. Randy Terrill (R), who sponsored the measure, has expressed a desire to go beyond the Arizona law when he introduces a bill next year that would seize property from businesses that knowingly employ illegal immigrants.

Terrill cited the arrest last week of an alleged Mexican drug cartel member in Oklahoma as evidence that an "Arizona-plus" measure is needed urgently. He said the effect of Arizona's law has been to push illegal immigrants "straight down Interstate 40" toward Oklahoma.

Vivek Malhotra, advocacy and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the administration's decision to sue Arizona could discourage other states from doing the same. But he also said that similar legislation may be adopted in 2011.

"After the other border states, it is natural to look at the states that have enacted the most anti-immigrant laws" before Arizona, Malhotra said. He said he expected Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah to make the "most vigorous effort" to enact similar legislation early next year.

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said he thinks the Obama administration designed the lawsuit against Arizona as a "shot across the bows" of all states considering similar moves. He said he doubts, though, that Terrill will be deterred.

"Randy Terrill has made this his issue in Oklahoma and has earned bipartisan support in the past," he said. "He is a determined guy and he is not going to back down too

Meanwhile, lawmakers in at least 14 other states drew up bills that permit police officers to question anyone they suspect of being in the county illegally – the core issue of the Arizona law.

But it’s an open question in many of those states whether these bills would make it past sitting governors, many of whom are Democrats. In Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah, however, political factors improve the chances that state legislatures could follow Arizona's lead when they convene in 2011, according to the Post.

Oklahoma was actually the first state, not Arizona, to adopt legislation that was the toughest ever against undocumented immigrants. That happened in 2007. The measure made it a felony to knowingly provide transport or shelter to an illegal immigrant, and blocked illegal immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses and tuition.

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