POSTED ON OCTOBER 31, 2007:
Anti-HB 1804 group says it'll try once again to stop state immigration legislation
While National Coalition of Latin Evangelical Clergy and Christian Leaders and Co. are regrouping for another go at suing the State of Oklahoma out of enacting the anti-illegal immigration legislation it passed this year, one of the plaintiffs in their suit is trying to figure out how he even wound up in the fight.
"I don't have anything against this and I don't hire illegal immigrants," Mexico Lindo Restaurant manager and spokesman Jose Ramirez told UTW upon reading about his restaurant's role in the recently filed, dismissed and refiled lawsuit.
About two weeks ago, the National Coalition of Latin Evangelical Clergy and Christian Leaders (better known as "CONLAMIC," which is an acronym from the Spanish translation of the group's name) filed a lawsuit against the state and petitioned for a temporary restraining order to keep House Bill 1804 from going into effect on Nov. 1.
Among the bill'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.
Amid accusations that the authors--state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, and Tulsa's own Republican state Sen. James Williamson--are guilty of "ethnic cleansing" (see "Como Se Dice: Pogrom? Holocaust?" in last week's UTW at www.urbantulsa.com for full details), CONLAMIC President, the Rev. Miguel Rivera, pointed to the panic caused by the impending effective date of HB 1804 as the impetus for numerous Hispanics to leave the state.
Among numerous "John" and "Jane Does," Church Eficaz, Church Piedra Angular, and CONLAMIC itself, Mexico Lindo Restaurants is also listed as a plaintiff 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 faulted 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."
"Plaintiff Mexico Lindo" also doesn't know how he got involved in the lawsuit.
"I saw my restaurant's name in the paper, and I don't like what I read," Ramirez told UTW minutes after reading last week's article about the lawsuit.
"Where did you get this information? I don't hire illegal immigrants," he said.
While many of his clientele may or may not be in the country illegally, Ramirez said he's not in any danger of losing his workforce to HB 1804.
"When we hired the people here, we checked everything--their social security, everything. On our side of things, they are all legal," he said.
Upon being told that the information came from a lawsuit filed on his behalf and accessible to any member of the public, Ramirez insisted that he didn't have any interest in suing the state of Oklahoma.
While a certain reporter might consider suing someone if Mexico Lindo goes out of business (incidentally, their burritos are, without exaggeration, the greatest in the world, and their queso dip comes close), Ramirez himself was taken by surprise when he discovered his restaurant's involvement in the lawsuit.
When asked how his restaurant might have wound up on the list of plaintiffs, he said, "Victor Orta called and asked me about the restaurant, and I told him sales are down 40 percent, and I answered other questions. That was it."
"I don't want to sue anybody and I don't want to read about my restaurant in the paper," Ramirez added (sorry, Jose...).
The Rev. Victor Orta is the state coordinator for CONLAMIC.
When asked about Ramirez's surprise to learn of his involvement in the lawsuit, Orta said, "All along, he has been part of the lawsuit."
He said he did, indeed, call Ramirez with questions about how HB 1804 was affecting his business, and said afterwards Ramirez "was to come to (Rohit) Sharma's office, and I hadn't heard that he didn't."
Rohit Sharma is the attorney who filed the lawsuit.
"He and Sharma conversed, and he signed the affidavit," added Orta.
But, did Sharma make it clear to Ramirez what was signing?
"I am confident that he did," answered Orta.
He said any other questions about Ramirez's involvement should be asked of Sharma.
Sharma did not respond to multiple attempts to contact him, though.
That might have been because he was preparing his second legal challenge to HB 1804.
The first lawsuit, along with the request for a restraining order, was dismissed.
U.S. District Court Judge James Payne said none of the plaintiffs had suffered any actual injury from the law, since it hadn't yet taken effect.
"The Court has no doubt that Plaintiffs fervently believe in the unconstitutionality of HB 1804. Standing, however, is not measured by the intensity of the litigant's interest or the fervor of his advocacy," he said.
Payne also said the public interest "would best be served by a sharpening of the issues presented" before the vetting of the new law, and that "such a sharpening can only be achieved through a suit brought by plaintiffs with well-defined injuries causally connected to HB 1804."
Orta said he's confident that such a "sharpening" has been accomplished in the newly re-filed lawsuit and restraining order petition.
He said the suit has been amended to include "many more plaintiffs" and "more documentation of the impact, from loss of revenue and workforce."
Just in case, though, Orta and CONLAMIC held an "informative luncheon" last week, on the day the lawsuit was refiled, to apprise employers of what to expect when the new law takes effect.
"Many don't understand the impacts of this law, and some have already fired some employees and they shouldn't," Orta explained, noting that July 1 is the date when certain laws against employment of undocumented workers by private employers takes effect.
"Others have given notice to employees that they'll be laid off when the law takes effect, and renters have already evicted some of their undocumented tenants," he continued.
Orta said luncheon attendants were advised that the new law does not apply to landlords-tenant relations, though.
"It applies to human trafficking--when Immigrations (and Customs Enforcement) is looking for smugglers. It's not looking for decent families--that's not the object," he said.
The community leader pointed out that the law in question "is already a federal law and it does not go after families that are just buying groceries and making a living; it's mostly aimed at people who would exploit undocumented people for money."
Along with the hat he wears as CONLAMIC's state coordinator, Orta is also president of the American Dream Coalition, which sponsored the "Stop HB 1804" billboard displayed along Interstate 44 in east Tulsa a few months ago, which depicted a tearful, teddy bear-clutching little girl declaring, "My mommy is not a criminal. She is a hardworking Hispanic woman."
At the time, Orta told UTW that the purpose of the billboard and publicity campaign were to "educate people on the impact this has on families."
That was before local police chiefs and Tulsa County Sheriff's deputies clarified that the law doesn't threaten illegal immigrants who, apart from being in the country illegally, aren't committing any other crimes.
(It bears pointing out that that this was the very Tulsa County Sheriff's Office that Miguel Rivera, Orta's comrade-in-lawsuits, accused of "ethnic cleansing" when the lawsuit was originally filed.)
"That's according to our attorneys and city and county officials, though," Orta said.
"What about other counties and municipalities? Will they interpret it the same way? That is one of the problems of the law--not everyone is educated on how it's to be interpreted," he added.
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