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Oklahoma lawmakers advance bill to restrict state dollars going to people without legal immigration status

Oklahoma State Capitol Building
Kyle Phillips
/
For Oklahoma Voice
Oklahoma State Capitol Building

Oklahoma lawmakers are considering ways to make the state less attractive to immigrants who don’t have legal permission to be in the country.

House BiIll 3071, by Checotah Republican Rep. Neil Hays, restricts the use of state dollars to support Oklahomans living in the country without legal permission. It passed the House March 14, by a 71-17 vote, after two rounds of questioning and debate on the floor.

Hays said the bill is an attempt to discourage more people in the country illegally from moving to the state.

“This is preemptive legislation to let illegal immigrants know that Oklahoma is not the state to come to,” he said on the House floor last week. “If other states want to create policies to attract illegals, they can do that. But we need to stop the problem before it starts.”

The measure threatens to cut state funds to entities that “knowingly” serve Oklahomans without legal immigration status. And while it explicitly exempts healthcare providers, law enforcement and public schools, Hays failed to provide an example of any organization actively violating his measure that he would like to stop.

Opponents of the bill say it’s racist and too broadly applicable.

Early this month, Rep. Arturo Alonso Sandoval, D-Oklahoma City, hosted an event aimed at increasing awareness of the bill among Latinos living in the southside of his hometown. A majority Latino population inhabits the area.

Multiple speakers presented at the community gathering, including Sen. Michael Brooks, D-Oklahoma City, who said bills that target the immigrant community are often filed by lawmakers to draw media attention and support from voters who encompass the base of their district, especially during election years.

“When I see racist bills like this, it makes me mad,” Brooks said, “But we have to remember that the people who make these proposals want a fight. They want to see their face on TV and in the news, and if we give them a fight, we give them what they want.”

Brooks said if his supporters don’t see Latino lawmakers speaking out about bills that attack immigrants and other marginalized groups, it’s to avoid amplifying hateful rhetoric.

On the House floor, other Democrats raised concerns about what would happen to nonprofits like food banks and domestic violence survivor support programs that know they serve Oklahomans in the U.S. without legal permission. They also worried for churches and programs that are nongovernmental but work closely with public schools.

Norman Democrat Annie Menz questioned if her nonprofit Methodist church would lose the ability to get government grants and tax breaks.

“One of the ways we choose to worship God is through charitable acts,” Menz said. “Including, for example, delivering boxed meals to the needy at Christmastime. Sometimes those people are coincidentally undocumented.”

In response, Hays said he doesn’t expect any church to knowingly break the law.

The bill raised worries for some Republicans, too. Rep. Mike Dobrinski, R-Okeene, asked Hays if organizations working with public schools, while knowing some students may not have legal immigration status, would be affected by the restrictions.

He mentioned a student with disabilities in Okeene whose parents are in the country illegally.

“Is my school going to be in violation of this law if passed?” Dobrinski asked. “If they coordinate and make him aware and try and facilitate facilities from these other not-for-profits and other entities and agencies that are out there to help?”

Hays replied, saying he assumes the exemption to public schools should protect organizations working with them.

House Bill 3071 is one of a series of bills proposed this session by Republican lawmakers targeting Latino Oklahomans and people in the state without legal immigration status.

Among the others were House Bill 3133, which, when introduced, classified Latinos arrested and charged for gang activity as terrorists, and House Bill 4090, a bill that would have made it a felony to be arrested while in the country without legal immigration status.

Both bills made it out of committee but not to the House floor, and with that deadline in the past, are considered dead.

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Lionel Ramos covers state government for a consortium of Oklahoma’s public radio stations. He is a graduate of Texas State University in San Marcos with a degree in English. He has covered race and equity, unemployment, housing, and veterans' issues.
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