Not to be outdone by Arizona, a group of conservative lawmakers in Oklahoma said Thursday they plan to introduce a bill similar to that state’s new law directing police to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are illegal.
That drew immediate criticism from several civil rights groups in Oklahoma that said the proposal will encourage racial profiling.
State Rep. Randy Terrill, a harsh critic of illegal immigration, said there are several bills that could be amended to insert the new language. Besides the Arizona language, Terrill, R-Moore, said the Oklahoma bill likely will include asset seizure and forfeiture provisions for immigration-related crimes and harsher penalties for illegal aliens caught with guns.
“Oklahoma and Arizona have always been the two states at the forefront of illegal immigration legislation,” said Terrill, the author of a 2007 omnibus anti-immigration bill, a portion of which remains tied up in court on a legal challenge. “They are now in the No. 1 position.
“But the session’s not over yet.”
Arizona’s law, which also makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally, has sparked a national controversy, and two lawsuits have been filed challenging it. President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder have criticized the law, and Holder said the federal government may sue.
Terrill also acknowledged that he is researching the possibility of outlawing birthright citizenship, which he described as the “holy grail of illegal immigration.” Birthright citizenship, authorized under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guarantees that anyone born in the country is a citizen, regardless of whether the parents are illegal aliens.
But Terrill said it’s unlikely this year’s bill would include such language.
“That would be an awfully big bite to take,” said Terrill, who said birthright citizenship is “ripe for a legal challenge.”
Several Oklahoma civil rights groups decried the plan as an assault on the civil liberties of citizens and an open invitation for police to engage in racial profiling.
“This is one of the most un-American proposals we’ve been aware of, and it certainly is breathtaking in scope,” said Chuck Thornton, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma. “This is something we would expect in post-World War II East Germany.”
Thornton said the group plans to fight any proposal in the Legislature and would likely file a legal challenge if it becomes law.
“What we are witnessing now is the legal sanctioning of racism,” said Juan Miret, an official with the Greater Tulsa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said.
Rep. Rex Duncan, R-Sand Springs, one of the supporters of the planned bill, disputed that and said police would request citizenship papers only after a lawful stop for some other violation and if they had a reasonable suspicion that a person was in the country illegally.
“For me, if I was a law enforcement officer that was investigating a car accident, and the person with whom I’m dealing doesn’t speak English, that might be an indicator when you’re talking about illegal immigration,” Duncan said.