Law & Principles

Illegal immigration bill sent to governor

Ray Carter | April 24, 2024

Legislation that would allow illegal immigrants to be arrested by state police for “impermissible occupation” has won strong approval from the Oklahoma Senate and is headed to the governor.

“Oklahomans elect us to lead, to protect them, their property, and make sure that we are safe as a state,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, “and I believe that this bill gives law enforcement those tools.”

House Bill 4156, by House Speaker Charles McCall and Treat, creates the crime of impermissible occupation, which is defined as occurring when a person willfully and without permission enters and remains in the state of Oklahoma without having first obtained legal authorization to enter the United States.

The legislation declares that throughout the state “law enforcement comes into daily and increasingly frequent contact with foreign nationals who entered the country illegally or who remain here illegally,” including those involved with “illegal marijuana grow operations, which have exploded in number in recent years,” “organized crime such as drug cartels,” and individuals involved in “fentanyl distribution, sex trafficking, and labor trafficking.”

Under the bill, a first offense would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $500, and the individual would be required to leave the state within 72 hours of release from custody and prohibited from reentering Oklahoma thereafter.

A second or subsequent offense would be a felony punishable by up to two years in prison and/or a fine of up to $1,000, as well as being kicked out of the state.

The legislation also includes a preemption clause prohibiting municipalities from becoming “sanctuary cities.”

The bill drew vocal opposition from Senate Democrats.

State Sen. Michael Brooks, D-Oklahoma City, said the bill would have a devastating impact on many individuals who may have entered the country illegally but who have otherwise been law-abiding.

“This is painting everyone with a broad brush,” Brooks said.

Brooks said Oklahoma has 33,000 undocumented immigrants who pay about $26 million annually in state income tax.

State Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, suggested that driving illegal immigrants out of Oklahoma will create problems for many businesses.

“We in Oklahoma have a workforce shortage,” Matthews said.

State Sen. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, dismissed arguments that the federal government has failed to address illegal immigration, leading to the need for state action.

“The federal government, it had also failed on many other things,” Young said. “They failed on the Greenwood Massacre (in Tulsa in 1921). They failed in getting African Americans where they should have been after the Civil War. I don’t see any bills addressing that.”

But supporters said state officials cannot ignore the problem and simply hope that federal officials finally secure the border.

State Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, noted she is the “first Hispanic female ever to walk into this building as an elected official.”

“The reality is I am here before you because my grandparents came here, legally, through the process that everyone who immigrates to this country should be doing,” Garvin said. “This is an issue of safety for the people that live here and it is our responsibility not to put it aside and pretend like it’s not a problem, because it is a problem.”

She noted illegal immigrants have been involved in serious crimes, including murder. While not all illegal immigrants fall into that category, Garvin said lawmakers cannot ignore the public-safety threats created by illegal immigration.

HB 4156 passed the Oklahoma Senate on a 39-8 vote. It passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives with a similar level of support last week.

The legislation now goes to the governor, who has expressed support for the broad outlines of the measure.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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