OKLAHOMA CITY – A federal judge on Wednesday blocked parts of an Oklahoma law targeting illegal immigration, saying the measures are probably unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Robin J. Cauthron issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of provisions of the law that subject employers to penalties for failing to comply with a federal employee verification system.
The decision came on a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Oklahoma Chamber and other business groups, who argued that the electronic verification system is voluntary under federal law and that employers should not be subjected to state penalties.
"Through harsh civil penalties, the Oklahoma law unfairly shifts the burden of immigration enforcement from government onto the backs of business," Robin Conrad, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber, said in statement.
The provisions in effect since November prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving tax-supported services and make it a state crime to transport or harbor illegal immigrants, a provision loudly criticized by social agencies that work with the immigrant population.
The state law took effect in November 2007, but the employer provisions under attack were set to take effect July 1.
Cauthron held that the plaintiffs would probably establish that the state measure pre-empted federal law on immigration.
Attorney General Drew Edmondson defended the law.
"We will attempt to overcome this hurdle when the matter is set for hearing on the permanent injunction," he said.
Rep. Randy Terrill, a Republican who introduced the legislation, predicted the case would be appealed if the plaintiffs prevail in their quest for a permanent injunction.
No hearing date has been set.