Cries of racism clashed with shouts about the rule of law. Worries of employees and profits weighed on business owners. Lawmakers hailed Oklahoma's 2007 immigration law as the perfect mix of public opinion and public policy.
When Gov. Brad Henry signed it three years ago on May 9, 2007, HB 1804 was considered the most far-reaching immigration law in the United States. That title was reassigned only this year when Arizona passed its own immigration law.
Critics contend HB 1804 is all talk and hate: a law with 24 provisions that's neither slowed nor curbed undocumented workers from coming to the state. Others applaud state legislators who tried what federal lawmakers have balked at.
"Oklahoma is the gold standard for us,” said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, hours before Arizona's law was passed.
Stein gives the credit to Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore.
"HB 1804 is rhetoric,” said John Collison, state director for Sen. Jim Inhofe. "If Oklahoma passes these laws, then Oklahoma has to live with them.”
"Sen. Inhofe, as do I, wants comprehensive reform,” Collison said.
Immigration Reform for Oklahoma Now founder Carol Helm says the law has been successful at forcing many illegal immigrants to flee. She admits it's not perfect, however.
She says enforcement of the law isn't as strong as it should be and blames Attorney General Drew Edmondson for "failing to do his job” to defend it.
Discussion heats up
The illegal immigration debate in Oklahoma became more heated following Sept. 11, 2001. Legislators began discussions about designating English the official state language, but a bill never took hold.
A proposal in 2005 would have required state employees to report suspected immigration violations to federal officials, but the bill never made it to a full vote in the House.
Meanwhile, lawmakers and community leaders argued their positions in town halls and school gymnasiums. Federal officials talked about securing borders and changing visa requirements. Bills were introduced in the U.S. House and Senate.
The debate raged on.
Terrill introduced a 2006 bill to require proof of citizenship for identification cards, voter registration and when seeking public assistance. It didn't make it out of committee.
A year later in the spring of 2007, HB 1804 easily passed the House and Senate. By summer, the debate was still ringing, but federal immigration reform had fallen flat.
As recently as this year, Terrill and Rep.