Although saying illegal immigration must be addressed by the federal government, Gov. Brad Henry signed an immigration reform bill Tuesday that won overwhelming approval in both state legislative chambers.
"While some will undoubtedly claim this state legislation is a landmark step forward, the truth of the matter is we will not effectively address immigration reform until the federal government acts,” Henry said in a statement.
Henry, who issued a three-paragraph statement after signing the bill less than seven hours before the midnight deadline, had said during his re-election campaign last year immigration was a federal matter.
Opponents pledged to take their case against the law to court.
Rep. Randy Terrill, main author of House Bill 1804, said he is pleased the governor signed it. He and other supporters have said Oklahoma has waited long enough on the federal government to control illegal immigrants coming across the U.S. border and eventually into Oklahoma.
Terrill, R-Moore, led the charge the past two years to win support of an immigration measure, saying illegal immigrants are unfairly using taxpayer-funded benefits such as in-state college tuition and social services.
"I find it quite refreshing to know that a well-informed and engaged citizenry can in fact make a difference by communicating their wishes through the Legislature and to the governor,” he said. "I'm just very pleased that the governor received that message and decided to respect the will of the people.”
Terrill said the bill is "the most meaningful immigration reform bill in the nation” and "would represent the single, most significant step that any state has taken in this area.”
"It will put Oklahoma at the forefront of the state level immigration reform movement,” Terrill said.