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Oklahoma's high court upholds state's anti-illegal immigration bill

The author of House Bill 1804 said he is pleased his measure for the most part survived a ‘multipronged attack.' The attorney who filed the lawsuit calls the Oklahoma Supreme Court's opinion a political decision.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: June 15, 2011

The state Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court's decision that determined virtually all of the state's anti-illegal immigration law is constitutional.

“It is not the place of the Supreme Court or any court to concern itself with a statute's propriety, desirability, wisdom or its practicality as a working proposition,” the 25-page ruling states. “Such questions are plainly and definitely established by fundamental laws as functions of the legislative branch of government.”

Rep. Randy Terrill, the author of House Bill 1804, said he was pleased the high court has validated virtually all of the measure. The law makes it illegal to knowingly transport illegal immigrants, creates state barriers to hiring illegal workers and requires proof of citizenship before a person can receive government benefits.

“For the most part, the multipronged attack that was initiated against House Bill 1804 has failed,” said Terrill, R-Moore. “This Oklahoma Supreme Court opinion has validated virtually all of House Bill 1804 with just a couple of exceptions.”

James C. Thomas, a Tulsa attorney who filed the lawsuit, said he is disappointed with the ruling.

“They still said the Legislature's free to treat people that the Legislature is fearful of in a draconian manner,” said Thomas, who recently retired as a University of Tulsa law professor. “I think it's a political decision and not a legal decision.

“I guess the consequences will be that the Legislature's going to feel free to become even more draconian,” he said. “We close our minds to humanity issues in these kinds of cases; that's what the court has done.”

Key portions of the law were enforceable despite the legal challenge. Enforcement has been sporadic and it's not clear whether that will now change.

What wasn't valid?

The high court in an 8-1 vote did strike down a provision of HB 1804, which took effect in 2007, which denies bail to illegal immigrants arrested on felony counts or driving under the influence complaints.

The Supreme Court ruled it should be left up to the courts to decide on bail.

“Whether a particular defendant is a flight risk is a determination to be made by the trial judge in that case,” the ruling states.

Chief Justice Steven Taylor dissented in that part of the ruling. He said he found HB 1804 “to be constitutional in all respects.”

Terrill said he plans to introduce legislation next year that would address the flight risk issue. He said he is considering seeking a proposed constitutional amendment that would be up to voters to approve that would deny bail for illegal immigrants arrested for misdemeanors, felonies and driving under the influence offenses.

“I'm very concerned that it creates a public safety risk for the citizens and taxpayers of the state of Oklahoma,” he said. “They have very little if any ties to the state of Oklahoma so they have no incentive to remain here. They would therefore, upon being charged with a crime and upon being released, would flee the jurisdiction. So not only does it create the risk that they could commit an additional crime against the citizens and taxpayers of the state of Oklahoma but also that they would never be held accountable for the initial crime for which they were charged.”

What was validated?

Key parts of HB 1804 validated in the ruling, Terrill said, include:

PDF: Full text of HB 1804

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