POLITICS

Oklahoma House Passes Arizona-style Immigration Bill

The Oklahoma House overwhelmingly passed a bill patterned after the controversial Arizona law that allows local law enforcement officers to inquire about people's immigration status adding Oklahoma to the list of state's who have considered or passed Arizona-style illegal immigration laws.

The House voted 85-7 for the bill, despite concerns from some members it didn't go far enough to target businesses that hire undocumented immigrants.

"My goal is for this bill to focus on public safety," said Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee, who co-chairs a joint House and Senate committee charged with developing a comprehensive anti-illegal immigration bill.

The bill stiffens the penalties for human smuggling and allows law enforcement to seize property used to harbor or transport undocumented immigrants. It also allows state and local law enforcement officers to inquire about an individual's immigration status, but only if the officer has completed a federal training program.

State Rep. Randy Terrill, a fierce critic of illegal immigration, said he believes the proposal was watered down at the request of business interests and called the bill a "sellout to the State Chamber of Commerce."

Fred Morgan, the chamber's president, said his group believes illegal immigration should be addressed at the federal level, but that the organization is not actively supporting or trying to derail any of the immigration bills at the state Capitol.

"We do want to make sure that any legislation that comes out doesn't impose hardships on legitimate businesses," Morgan said.

To that end, lawmakers in Utah passed a bill this week that would allow undocumented immigrants to work and live in the state.

An opponent of the Oklahoma bill, state Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, said she fears victims of human smuggling or abuse will be too frightened to report crimes to police for fear of being deported.

"You are taking an entire segment of the population of this state and putting them outside the protection of the law," said Hamilton, a Democrat who represents a heavily Hispanic district in south Oklahoma City. "You're making it impossible for the victim to go to the police."

The bill now heads to the Senate, which is expected to consider a separate sweeping anti-illegal immigration bill next week.

Republican House Speaker Kris Steele indicated it's likely both bills will end up being rewritten in a House and Senate conference committee.

"This is not the final version of what our immigration reform bill ultimately will be," said Steele, R-Shawnee. "It's a work in progress, and there's no secret about that."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.\

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