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.
"We had enough bipartisan support to frankly override it if he hadn't,” he said. "The issue is incredibly important to our state and to our country.”
‘Quite refreshing'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. Had Henry vetoed the bill, lawmakers almost certainly would have overridden his veto. The bill passed in the House, 88-14, and in the Senate 41-6. It would have taken 68 votes in the House and 32 votes in the Senate to override his veto. Sen. James Williamson, R-Tulsa, a Senate author of the bill, said he was not surprised the Democratic governor signed the bill.
Penalties outlinedThe bill, which takes effect Nov. 1, 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. Some say that could cut off most illegal students from in-state tuition because once a student enters the country illegally, it is almost impossible to become a legal citizen. Henry said illegal immigration is "a very serious national security issue” that must be addressed at the federal level. "States can take some actions on their own,” Henry said. "But until the U.S. Congress enacts a comprehensive, national immigration policy, citizens will see little progress on this issue.” He said the state should closely monitor the impact of HB 1804 to ensure "it doesn't have any unintended consequences.”
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