POSTED ON OCTOBER 24, 2007:
Como Se Dice: Pogrom? Holocaust?
Is House Bill 1804 so bad that it would produce ethnic cleansing, or was something lost in translation?
Something to Talk About. Since its introduction at the beginning of the year, HB 1804 has been the subject of national attention from critics and supporters alike as "the most meaningful immigration reform legislation in the nation."
About a century too late, an advocacy group is taking the government to task for "ethnic cleansing."
The incendiary phrase isn't found anywhere in the lawsuit filed last week and dismissed a week later, but spokesmen for the National Coalition of Latin Evangelical Clergy and Christian Leaders peppered the phrase liberally into their press conference comments last week when they announced their legal attack on House Bill 1804.
"Don't make any mistake--the leaders (behind) 1804, and especially the sheriff of Tulsa County, are guilty of ethnic cleansing," said the Rev. Miguel Rivera, president of CONLAMIC (an acronym from the Spanish translation of the group's name: La Coalicion Nacional Latina de Ministros y Lideres Cristianos).
"That's some pretty strong language," one reporter (not this one) said about the accusation.
"I wish I could have stronger language," Rivera answered.
Since its introduction in the state Legislature at the beginning of the year, the bill in question has been the subject of national attention from critics and supporters alike as "the most meaningful immigration reform legislation in the nation."
Its principal author, state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, has appeared on numerous national news broadcasts as a result, including an appearance on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight in late August, where he crossed swords with el presidente de CONLAMIC.
Tulsa's Republican state Sen. James Williamson sponsored the bill in the Senate.
Among HB 1804's numerous provisions and mandates are penalties for those who knowingly hire illegal aliens and for those who knowingly harbor or shelter them, as well as requirements of proof of citizenship to receive state-funded non-emergency services or state-issued identification.
It will also modify Oklahoma law to mirror federal immigration laws, thereby authorizing enforcement by state and local police.
The new law is set to take effect Nov. 1, but not if CONLAMIC has anything to say about it.
A few days after the lawsuit was filed and announced, the group also filed an injunction in U.S. District Court petitioning the federal government to delay HB 1804 taking effect while a judge reviews the claims of the lawsuit.
"Mr. Randy Terrill, today we are stopping you from motivating over 25,000 of Tulsa's Latino residents to relocate," declared Rivera.
He, along with many of the 60-some-odd pages of the lawsuit, pointed specifically to the not-yet-effective HB 1804 as a source of fear within and hostility against the Hispanic community during the past several months, in Tulsa and across the state, which has driven many Hispanics to move out of state.
Mexico Lindo Restaurants is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which states that the restaurant chain "has lost significant revenue since the announcement of HB 1804."
"The loss in revenue and profit resulting from the passage of HB 1804 might force Plaintiff Mexico Lindo Restaurants to close their business," the lawsuit reads.
The suit also takes aim at the new law's requirement that public employers, or employers contracting with public entities, utilize the federal Basic Pilot Program to ensure no employees are in the country illegally.
"Plaintiff Mexico Lindo Restaurants has hired individuals to work in their business," the lawsuit reads. "If Plaintiff does not participate in the 'federal status verification system' he will not have access to state contracts according to HB 1804 . . . Imposing this new burden on Plaintiff Mexico Lindo Restaurants' business is burdensome and due to its vagueness he does not know what it means exactly."
The suit also blames HB 1804 for a 50 percent loss of membership for Church Eficaz, another plaintiff.
"HB 1804 has created great hostility towards the Latino community in Oklahoma and therefore adversely affects the work Church Eficaz performs in Oklahoma and for Oklahoma residents," the lawsuit reads.
The suit also blames the bill for alleged racial profiling of Hispanics by local police in Tulsa.
"Plaintiff Church Eficaz' pastor, Julian Rodriguez . . . has visited the jails and found numerous instances of individuals who believed they were stopped by local Oklahoma police because they appeared 'Hispanic' or otherwise 'foreign,'" the suit reads.
Rivera said he's personally aware of more than 37 different complaints of racial profiling in the state since HB 1804 appeared on the horizon, and said pastors within the state's Hispanic communities have told him they've received "over 100 phone calls from people being flagged by police."
"Pastor Julian believes that the local Oklahoma police have been emboldened by the passage of HB 1804, especially in light of statements made by the bill's author," the lawsuit continues.
Tragedy or Comedy?
The statements in question were taken from a Sept. 26 article in USA Today, included with the lawsuit as "Exhibit B," in which Terrill is quoted, "It would be just fine by me if we exported all illegal aliens to the surrounding states."
The article, entitled "Illegal immigrants moving out," reported on illegal immigrants in Oklahoma and other states packing up and leaving of their own accord and moving to other states before state-level immigration reform laws like Terrill's take effect.
Regarding the lawmaker's comment, the suit reads, "Such a statement presumes that the State of Oklahoma has the right to 'export' aliens to other states. Not only is it a federal function to deport, or otherwise regulate immigration, but contrary to Rep. Terrill's wishes, they cannot be deported or 'exported' to other surrounding states, only to their country of origin."
The lawsuit also lists several John and Jane Doe's--all originally from Mexico and "undocumented," according to the suit--who complain of HB 1804's effect of causing them to lose their drivers' licenses and possibly causing them to be evicted by landlords not wanting to "harbor an undocumented person," among other complaints.
"Plaintiff John Doe 3 is otherwise qualified to hold an Oklahoma driver's license except for his undocumented status," the suit reads, as an example.
The lawsuit contains numerous other complaints, but a central claim is that the provisions of HB 1804 exceed the state's authority by establishing laws regulating immigration, which is the exclusive domain of the federal government.
"The immigration laws, procedures, and policies created by the federal government regulate immigration and confer rights in a careful balance reflecting the national interest," the lawsuit reads, stating also that, by creating its own laws regarding illegal immigration, the state of Oklahoma disrupts that "careful balance."
"The Constitution bars the State from altering or obstructing the federal government's carefully crafted comprehensive immigration regime," the suit continues, apparently concerned with upholding the nation's laws by preventing enforcement of them on the state level against the tens of thousands of illegal aliens in the state who are currently breaking them.
"I am extremely confident that 1804 will be stopped as soon as a federal jury reads our petition," Rivera declared.
"You can be sure that God is on our side," he added.
While most of Rivera's invective at the press conference was directed specifically against Terrill, the lawsuit didn't name him as a defendant.
Instead, it named Gov. Brad Henry for signing it into law, and state Attorney General Drew Edmondson for not yet responding to a request by five state representatives on Sept. 5 for a legal opinion on the constitutionality of HB 1804.
"Instead of responding to the letter (requesting the opinion) and addressing these concerns, he decided not to respond," said Rivera.
The CONLAMIC prez also said he believes that HB 1804 is part of a larger agenda directed specifically against Hispanics, which he vowed to uncover.
"We're going to continue to investigate the reasons why these people have committed these atrocities against the Latino people," he told the gaggle of news reporters.
The mastermind behind the alleged conspiracy against the nation's estimated 12 million illegal Hispanic immigrants didn't think much of Rivera's comments about "ethnic cleansing" and "atrocities" directed specifically against Hispanics.
"That's so absurd and preposterous that it's almost laughable," Terrill told UTW.
"He's doing the same thing liberals typically do: he's resorting to name-calling instead of specifically addressing the merits of the matter, because he knows he's wrong," the lawmaker continued.
"Rev. Rivera has never gotten over the thumping I gave him on CNN," Terrill added.
The lawmaker pointed out that in no place does his law make any mention of any particular skin color, race or accent as targets of its enforcement.
"This bill is not racist or discriminatory in any way, and there is no racial profiling in this bill," he defended.
"It's ethnically unbiased by design--the only people who have anything to worry about are the ones who are breaking the law," Terrill also said.
As he stated when the "Stop HB 1804" campaign launched and Hispanic advocacy groups announced their intention to sue, Terrill said, "I am 99.9 percent confident that this will stand up to any constitutional challenge."
Regarding their complaint that it oversteps the bounds of states' authority, Terrill said federal law only reserves for the federal government the power to regulate immigration: "controlling the pipeline" by deciding who can legally enter the country and who cannot by issuing visas and green cards and establishing the processes for attaining legal residence and citizenship.
He said his law, though, doesn't address those issues, but only exercises the states' right to verify whom the federal government has already determined is in the country legally or illegally, and to enforce federal laws already in place.
Terrill also noted that many of the provisions of his bill to which the lawsuit's plaintiffs object only mirror existing federal laws, and so aren't likely to be overturned by a federal jury.
"I knew they'd put everything but the kitchen sink in their lawsuit, though," he told UTW.
"This is the consummate frivolous lawsuit," added Terrill who, when he's not busy with his "ethnic cleansing" efforts, is an attorney.
He added that, even if they were correct that the law is somehow unconstitutional, they can't challenge it in court unless there's a party with injuries actually resulting from its enforcement, which is impossible at this point since the law won't take effect until Nov. 1.
And, he was right.
The lawsuit was thrown out for that very reason, among a slew of others (for full details, see next week's UTW).
The Rev. Victor Orta, president of the American Dream Coalition and state coordinator for CONLAMIC, said he expected the setback.
Rohit Sharma, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, said they'll soon decide on whether to refile the lawsuit or appeal the ruling.
Terrill said illegal immigrants cost the state an estimated $200 million per year, mostly in the areas of health care, education, welfare and corrections.
"They're placing a severe strain on social services and the social safety net," he said.
Beyond the monetary cost, though, Terrill said the influx of illegal aliens threatens the sovereignty of the U.S.
"Our border is not just some historic anachronism to me and neither is the rule of law, and neither is our sovereignty," he said.
"From the moment they enter the country illegally, they're undermining our rule of law. Typically, civilized societies reserve the authority to establish the laws, but when we start changing the laws to accommodate criminal conduct, we're accommodating our invaders," Terrill added.
What Ethnic Cleaning Is
"Ethnic cleansing" is a phrase pregnant with sinister undertones.
The obviousness of that fact is matched by its irony, since the phrase was originally coined in the early 1990s by the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina to put a less diabolical characterization on the genocide and forced migrations they were conducting against groups like the Serbs, Croats, and others for the purpose of creating an "ethnically pure" region.
Since their public relations-spin didn't quite disguise their atrocities, when English-speaking journalists translated the Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian phrase "etnicko ciscenje" from Yugoslavian news reports, the term came to be synonymous with the mass murder and blatant human rights violations they were reporting.
The precise legal meaning of the term has since been the subject of considerable scholarly and lawyerly controversy, but the official United Nations definition is "rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove from a given area persons of another ethnic or religious group."
The popular imagination, though, has its own definition for "ethnic cleansing" as the phrase conjures up images of emaciated Jews naked and shivering behind Nazi concertina wire as they await execution by gas or furnace or starvation, massacres in Darfur and Rwanda, Saddam Hussein's gassing and bombing of thousands of Kurds, and countless other abominations man has committed against his fellow man.
While the aforementioned atrocities certainly qualify as "ethnic cleansing," the lack of precise definition makes the word particularly adaptable for lesser perceived "offenses," as seen recently in Tulsa when the Rev. Miguel Rivera, president of the National Coalition of Latin Evangelical Clergy and Christian Leaders, applied the term to the state Legislature's efforts to curb illegal immigration and the effects thereof in Oklahoma.
After all, "force" and "intimidation" can come in many subtle forms, and could mean anything.
The victim of an oppressive dictatorship certainly knows what it's like to be on the receiving end of "force," but so does the rebellious teenage child of a loving and protective parent who takes the car keys away so he'll be "forced" to stay home from that party where drugs and alcohol are expected to flow in abundance.
A survivor of the Holocaust has certainly known "intimidation," but so does the shy lover working up the courage to ask for his beloved's hand in marriage.
So, when Rivera and is PR/legal machine presumed the moral high ground from the outset by assuming state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, wasn't motivated by a genuine concern for the well-being of the state of Oklahoma, but instead by racism and personal hatred toward Hispanics when he introduced and passed HB 1804, the "force" needed to enforce the law and the "intimidation" felt by a group of people who already knew they were outside the law were easy to supply to complete a sloppy definition of "ethnic cleansing."
A phrase like "ethnic cleansing" conveniently comes packaged with all of the righteous superiority and moral outrage needed for the ongoing propaganda war, but its vagueness provides sufficient cover to hide behind, thereby providing an escape from the responsibility for accuracy that normally comes with accusations of that magnitude.
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