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Oklahoma lawmakers vote to give local law enforcement power over immigration

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Oklahoma might be about to join Texas and other states trying to give local law enforcement the power to enforce immigration law, usually a federal job. The bill sent to the governor this week could create a new crime called impermissible occupation. Lionel Ramos from member station KOSU reports that some in the state's growing immigrant community are objecting.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in Spanish).

LIONEL RAMOS, BYLINE: Latinos in Oklahoma City gathered in the hundreds at the state Capitol Tuesday. Dressed in white for peace, some held posters and waved flags of Latin American countries. They were there to oppose House Bill 41-56, criminalizing anyone in the state without legal immigration status. Pro-immigration activist Angelica Villalobos told the crowd the measure will be used to target all immigrants.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

ANGELICA VILLALOBOS: You continue pointing out, saying that we don't belong. Well, I'm here to tell you that we belong, and we're not going anywhere.

(CHEERING)

RAMOS: A person's immigration status is usually checked with federal authorities after they're arrested for something else. This bill would create a new state crime called impermissible occupation for people in the country illegally. It's punishable with a fine, up to a year in jail, or two years in prison on the second offense, and in order to leave the state or be jailed again. It would take Oklahoma in the same direction as states like Texas, Florida, and Iowa. The Texas law, known as SB4, which allows police to arrest people suspected to be in the country illegally, is currently held up in court. House Speaker Charles McCall authored the Oklahoma measure.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHARLES MCCALL: We have several public safety issues facing the state of Oklahoma that this bill is aimed at curtailing.

RAMOS: Supporters of the bill claim there is a connection between illegal immigration and increase in drug crimes, fentanyl overdoses and human trafficking in the state. Opponents say it's not fair to punish all for the crimes of some. McCall says he hopes this will be a constitutional template to start building a sort of statutory wall against illegal immigration.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MCCALL: Other states in the region will consider this legislation and Oklahoma will not be the only state passing this.

RAMOS: The bill passed both chambers in the Republican legislature along party lines. Governor Kevin Stitt has until early next week to act. He said he hasn't made up his mind, noting Oklahoma's, quote, "great Hispanic population." House Democrat Arturo Alonso-Sandoval represents a mostly Latino Oklahoma City district. He says there is an illegal immigration problem, but it should be addressed in a more comprehensive way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ARTURO ALONSO-SANDOVAL: A way that acknowledges that, yes, there is a crisis going on, but recognizing that we have long-term residents, undocumented Oklahomans, that have contributed and will continue to contribute in countless ways to our great states.

RAMOS: The census shows Latinos are the fastest-growing demographic in Oklahoma.

In Oklahoma City, I'm Lionel Ramos. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lionel Ramos
[Copyright 2024 KGOU]