Immigration views aired at OU conference
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
7/13/11 at 12:25 PM
NORMAN - States are passing immigration laws, even laws outside the scope of their authority, because federal lawmakers have not tackled the issue, according to a panel of national advocates Monday.
Leaders from groups advocating for different solutions to immigration regulation spoke at the Immigration in the Heartland Conference at the University of Oklahoma to groups of students and journalists.
"States and local levels are legislating out of frustration, and that is about as good as drunk dialing is for a relationship," said Clarissa Martinez de Castro, of the National Council of La Raza. "It's just not going to click."
Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said his organization has had a hand in most of the state laws. For decades, it has called for tighter controls on the flow of immigrants into the U.S. and coordination of all government agencies to track immigrants.
"There's a need to have a partnership with the executive branch to carry out immigration laws," Stein said. "These state laws are about trying to carve out terms and put political pressure to do more.''
Many provisions of Oklahoma's 2007 House Bill 1804 law regarding immigration enforcement have been challenged and held up in federal appellate court. The one part going into effect requires employers to verify immigration status.
An Arizona law passed last year, considered the toughest and most restrictive in the U.S., is being contested in federal court.
"You are going to continue to see citizens and state legislators saying 'We have to do something. What we have is not good government or public policy,' " Stein said. "The ultimate solution must be federal cooperation."
Don Kerwin, of the Migration Policy Institute, said the federal government is deporting more than 400,000 immigrants a year and growing numbers of administrative immigration hearings than in the past decade.
"It's overstating it to say the federal government is not enforcing the laws," Kerwin said. "It is not legitimate to say the federal government can't establish priorities. But with the state laws, the solution is worse than the status quo. That is why we need federal reform.''
Awaiting to be heard by the Oklahoma House is House Bill 1446, a wide-ranging immigration measure that would give law enforcement officers authority to check immigration status of drivers and vehicle occupants during a traffic stop and require illegal immigrant students in college to pay out-of-state tuition.
Stein said state legislation, such as the Oklahoma proposal, is "a desperate response from Americans to the complete collapse of federal leadership in immigration enforcement."
Martinez de Castro said the immigration debate has turned negative and often stereotypes Hispanic people. She said seven of 10 Hispanic people in the U.S. are legal and that jumps to nine out of 10 among those younger than 18.
"We have seen the equating of Latinos with immigrants with undocumented - to use a benign term," she said.
Jerry Kammer, of the Center for Immigration Studies, said about 1 million immigrants are granted residency status, known as "green cards," a year. He said it was one-fourth of that in the '60s and half of that in the '80s.
The event also featured a discussion between two lawmakers on opposite sides of the issue.
Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, campaigned on strengthening immigration laws in Oklahoma and penned a proposal that would require undocumented students to pay nonresident tuition rates at state colleges and universities.
"The ultimate goal is to make these people realize they're not wanted here and to leave our state," Shortey said. "My Native American heritage prompts me to protect what we have."
Shortey said some Native Americans he speaks to, as well as other constituents, see they are "losing the country again." The freshman senator added he feels morally obligated to uphold and protect federal immigration laws.
Senate Minority Leader Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, said he fears proposals such as Shortey's would alienate legal immigrant communities and push illegal immigrants further underground.
"This will affect our state in ways we won't like," said Rice, who used an example of Phoenix's declining convention business because of Arizona's controversial immigration law that went into effect last year.
Vallery Brown, staff writer for The Oklahoman, contributed to this story.
Original Print Headline: States' bids to legislate residencyget scrutiny
Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376
State Sen. Minority Leader Andrew Rice discusses immigration during a conference at the University of Oklahoma in Norman on Monday. PAUL HELLSTERN / The Oklahoman