As some consider fortifying the toughest immigration enforcement law in the nation, the base supporting the controversial measure appears to be fracturing. House Bill 1804 passed un- equivocally in the Oklahoma Legislature. Even now, many still support it. But dissent is seeping into Republican leadership, and it's spilling out into the street. "I'm very concerned,” said Rep. Don Armes, R-Faxon. "I see the problem, and I agree something has to be done. But I believe we are going about it the wrong way. What's the collateral damage of all this going to be?” HB 1804 denies driver's licenses and public services to illegal immigrants and criminalizes transporting, concealing and harboring illegal immigrants from detection or in reckless disregard of their citizenship status.
The ‘Son of HB 1804'"Son of House Bill 1804” is a proposal that would bolster the existing law. Its centerpiece is a provision designating English as the official language of the state. Rep. Randy Terrill, author of HB 1804, said his newest proposal also will allow law enforcement to seize the assets of those prosecuted under the statute. It also will likely include a "taxpayer transparency in education as it relates to illegal aliens” provision. "How many illegal aliens are in what school districts? How much is it costing taxpayers and whether it is having an adverse effect on our ability to educate own American citizens' children,” said Terill, R-Moore. "That's money that can be used for teacher pay raises, capital improvements and any other reason as opposed to educating children who shouldn't be here in the first place.” The most controversial provision would deny birth certificates to children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrant parents. The federal government guarantees this right through the 14th Amendment. This provision would legally challenge the federal government's interpretation. "I don't agree with the notion of birthright citizenship,” Terrill said. "That is my motive, that is why I am actively looking into it.” That provision might not make it into proposed legislation, he concedes.
Support waningThe Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce has remained relatively neutral on Oklahoma's immigration law. But it has since lost some of that neutrality. "We never said we supported that bill,” said Mike Seney, senior vice president of operations for the State Chamber. Immigration is a national policy debate that is being decided by an "Internet populace,” Seney said. "The two extremes are handling the debate, and the people in the middle are confused, wondering what is going on.” The results of polls on immigration reflect the widespread sentiment that something needs to be done. But Seney, among others, doubts Oklahomans want to give state legislators the OK to openly defy federal laws. "Nothing has been done for so long that this has become a bigger problem than it needs to be,” said Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Duncan. "You have to draw the line somewhere. This legislation drew a line in the sand. It said, ‘No, this is where we stop.' "At some point, we had to say, ‘Whose country is it?'” But even Johnson says "the line was certainly drawn over there toward the edge.” Johnson still supports HB 1804. But now he thinks the Legislature should consider a statute that softens the blow. "Ninety-five percent of them are here for the right reasons. They are here to feed their children. I don't fault them for that,” Johnson said. "There really should be a way to expedite the process for them to become American citizens.” Johnson said he would support legislation that offers temporary working permits, if illegal immigrants are in the process of becoming legal residents. "When you pass legislation, it's kind of a black-and-white issue. But then, once it's passed, you start to see the faces of people,” Johnson said. "Then you go back and modify it.”
‘Groundswell of anger'Armes also voted for HB 1804. He thinks Oklahoma's expectations regarding immigration are pretty simple: They want to know who is coming into this country, that they are not criminals or drug smugglers and ultimately that they are paying taxes. He feels HB 1804 has done more to divide the state than address those core concerns. "In my mind, if you seize somebody's property, you better have a ... good reason. An outlaw is one thing, but not someone we've turned into an outlaw,” Armes said. "There's going to be a groundswell of anger from John Q. Public when they have to prove citizenship just to get a driver's license. What about the guy who pays good wages and still can't find workers? "This is going to create a lot of anger, and it's not just going to be coming from those who are against illegal immigrants.” At the state Department of Motor Vehicles on Monday, the line was not terribly long, but it was sluggish. Mark Rogers, 47, born in Dodge City, Kan., had a birth certificate, marriage license and Social Security card in hand, and still he wasn't sure if he was adequately prepared. "I work at a machine shop with a lot of Hispanic people. Whether they are legal or not, I don't know. But I do know they are all hard-working people,” Rogers said. "If the concern is illegal immigration, this is not going to get it done. "I think this is a waste of time.”