Gov. Brad Henry's signature is all that is needed for an immigration reform bill approved by the House to become law.
The state House of Representatives voted 84-14 Tuesday to approve Senate changes to the bill and send it to the governor. The vote came after more than two hours of debate and questions.
Supporters of House Bill 1804 say states have waited long enough on the federal government to control the influx of illegal immigrants coming across the U.S. border and eventually into Oklahoma.
They say illegal immigrants are unfairly using taxpayer-funded benefits like in-state college tuition and social services.
Rep. Rex Duncan, chairman of the House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, said this is about rule of law, not discrimination.
"We are too afraid to offend somebody,” said Duncan, R-Sand Springs. "The land of opportunity is becoming the land of entitlement through years of political correctness and cowardice.”
A unified federal response is the only way to reduce illegal immigration, opponents say. The debate hinges on class and race and discriminates against all Hispanics, they say, and businesses that depend on low-wage workers will suffer.
Rep. Mike Shelton said the bill was watered down from the version that initially passed the House.
The bill, authored by Rep. Randy Terrill, would set criminal penalties for knowingly and willingly harboring illegal immigrants. No public benefits would be allowed to people in the state illegally, except in cases of medical emergencies or emergency aid. Businesses would need to run all workers through a federal verification system or risk penalties and legal action.
The legislation also would cut off in-state tuition for illegal immigrant students unless they can verify they have applied for citizenship or plan to within one year.
That change could cut off most illegal students from in-state tuition.
Maria Elena Garcia-Upson, a spokeswoman for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, said once a student enters the country illegally, it is almost impossible to become a legal citizen.
Sen. Tom Adelson, who fought to keep the in-state tuition eligibility in the bill, agreed there is currently not a clear way for illegal students to apply for citizenship without the risk of deportation. He says the bill deals with that issue by allowing students to apply for citizenship up to one year after a legal pathway is created by the federal government.