State: Immigration Hiring : Bill is watered down
BY MICK HINTON World Capitol Bureau
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
OKLAHOMA CITY -- House Republicans are toning down legislation aimed at punishing employers for hiring illegal immigrants.
The lawmakers have discovered that they cannot assess civil fines against employers because of a federal prohibition.
"We are going around the back door to do what we can," said Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore.
House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah, said state lawmakers "must do more to make sure that Oklahoma's social safety net is not strained to the breaking point by illegal immigration."
Terrill's scaled-back proposal would penalize employers for not verifying whether an employee has a Social Security number.
House Bill 1804 also would restrict illegal immigrants from getting Oklahoma driver's licenses and allow state and local law enforcement officers to perform immigration officer functions.
Shirley Cox, Oklahoma City-based attorney with Catholic Charities, said that would not be fair to immigrants who are subject to civil complaints. Oklahoma's law enforcement officers are trained to arrest people suspected of criminal felonies, she said.
The Washington, D.C.-based Immigration Reform Law Institute calls HB 1804 the most meaningful immigration reform bill in the nation, Terrill said.
The institute describes itself as "the only public interest law organization working exclusively to protect the legal rights, privileges and property of U.S. citizens and their communities from injuries and damages caused by unlawful immigration."
"This is an excellent piece of legislation that carefully balances critical enforcement obligations with respect for the dignity and privileges of U.S. citizens and legal alien residents," said Michael Hethmon, general counsel for the group.
But Cox said parts of Terrill's bill duplicate some federal provisions that already are in effect.
Terrill's bill will be heard in the House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, which meets at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in Room 412C in the state Capitol.
Last session, Terrill's reform bill was ignored by the Senate after thousands of Hispanics demonstrated at the Capitol.
Mick Hinton (405) 528-2465