Immigration reform hasn't been on center stage in the presidential race, but it is playing a role in an Oklahoma congressional district contest. At issue is the practical effect of Oklahoma House Bill 1804, an ill-advised immigration reform bill enacted in 2007. As always when this topic is discussed, the rhetoric gets overheated.
HB 1804 requires companies that contract with state and local governments to verify the immigration status of new employees. Markwayne Mullin, a plumbing contractor and the Republican nominee for the open 2nd Congressional District seat, said his company doesn't use the federal E-Verify system and, according to the state attorney general's office, isn't required to do so.
A Democratic Party official naturally used Mullin's avoidance of E-Verify to gig the Republican. Mullin perhaps made things worse by declining to say how his company conducts immigration status checks.
HB 1804 represents a confusing attempt by state government to usurp a process best handled by the federal government. The law has been challenged in federal and state courts; its ultimate fate remains undetermined. Overheated rhetoric has spewed from both sides. A former member of the Governor's Advisory Council on Latin American and Hispanic Affairs once likened reform arguments to “Nazi talk.”
GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has chided President Barack Obama for failing to keep campaign promises on federal immigration reform. The avoidance of reform in Washington has fueled state-based reform efforts. Nevertheless, we remain convinced that immigration reform is a federal issue. We also remain skeptical that the next Congress and the next president will get anything of substance done.
Thus, HB 1804 and similar state measures will be proposed, litigated, discussed and debated — and occasionally crop up in political campaigns. Sadly, true immigration reform draws far less interest than the exploitation of immigration for political gain.