Culture & the Family

Stitt: Oklahoma right to focus on border control

Ray Carter | April 19, 2024

While he did not explicitly promise to sign the bill, Gov. Kevin Stitt voiced broad support for state legislation designed to deter illegal immigration.

“We have to stop the flow, the mass migration coming into the U.S.,” Stitt said.

He noted that millions have illegally entered the U.S. during the Biden administration and most states have populations smaller than the total number of illegal immigrants who have breached the border while President Joe Biden has been in office.

While the stereotype of an illegal immigrant is often of a low-income individual from Mexico or Central America simply looking for work, that has changed during the Biden administration, the governor noted.

“There’s 37,000 Chinese nationals caught at the southern border,” Stitt said. “I mean, this is unbelievable to most Americans.”

This week, members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed House Bill 4156, by House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat. The legislation 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 noted that illegal immigration has had ever-increasing negative impact on public safety in Oklahoma, noting 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.”

Stitt did not promise to sign the bill, noting changes could still be made to it as it winds through the legislative process that he might not support.

He said federal officials should improve border control and could also improve the legal immigration system. Stitt has advocated for boosting the number of H-1B visas, which are provided to individuals with highly specialized skills.

But given the federal government’s failure to secure the nation’s southern border in particular, Stitt said states are now having to fill the gap.

“States are stepping up to say, ‘We’re going to make it very difficult to come here illegally and not follow our rules,” Stitt said.

HB 4156 currently awaits a vote in the Oklahoma Senate. It is not known yet how quickly senators will take up the measure, but Treat said it is an important issue.

“The federal government has failed us and to the extent that we can do anything as a state, we need to protect our people,” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “My take on it: We are a nation of immigrants and we’ve got to be proud of that history, and we need to not demonize people who’ve come to this country legally, nor should we demonize human beings. But we’ve got to protect our border and the federal government has failed at it. We’re taking action.”

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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