POSTED ON MARCH 12, 2008:
Immigration Reform, Revisited
Not quite ready for prime time, "Son of HB 1804" sequel still in production
It looks like the eagerly anticipated, or loathingly dreaded (depending on who's asked) "Son of House Bill 1804--the sequel to last year's uber-controversial state-level anti-illegal immigration legislation--won't be along this year after all.
But, a "daughter of 1804" might still emerge, depending on the success of state Rep. Randy Terrill's political strategizing.
The Republican from Moore told UTW last week that he recently made a "strategic decision" not to carry two immigration reform-related House bills any farther, but to drop one until next session and to reincarnate the other in the form of an amendment to an incoming Senate bill.
The prospective "daddy"--HB 1804 Terrill authored last year has been criticized by opponents but hailed by supporters nationwide as "the most meaningful and comprehensive" immigration reform legislation in the country.
Since its passage, it's been the target of three different lawsuits, two of which are still pending, and a catalyst for discussion within the ongoing national debate over immigration reform.
Among numerous other features, the new law makes it a felony to harbor or transport illegal immigrants, makes proof of citizenship a requirement to receive public benefits or a state-issued identification, requires certain employers to check the immigration status of potential workers using a federal database, and a host of other mandates intended to crack down on illegal immigration.
After the law's passage last session, Terrill announced intentions to strengthen it this year with what he called "Son of HB 1804."
His intentions for the next generation of immigration reform included making English the state's official language, authorizing law enforcement agencies to seize and forfeit assets used to harbor, transport or conceal illegal aliens in violation of HB 1804, and to require local school districts to report to the state Department of Education on the number of illegal immigrant students they have in attendance.
Making English the official language would require a constitutional amendment, and the Legislature's single-subject rule required the "Son of 1804" be filed as two separate bills: HB 3349, which would put the "official language" amendment to a vote of the people; and HB 3348, which contains the provisions Terrill refers to most commonly as "Son of HB 1804," which are the proposed authorization for asset forfeiture and seizure and the proposed requirement that school districts report data concerning illegal immigrant students.
Terrill originally filed the two as shell bills--bills without content to serve as vehicles for language to be added later.
Since the language was filled in, 3349 has been assigned to the House Rules Committee and 3348 to the House Public Safety and Judiciary Committee.
But, upon taking stock of the political battlefield before him, Terrill said he decided to save the actual "Son of 1804" for a more opportune time, and to do a little creative legislating to get the other through to the Governor's desk.
"It appears likely 'Son of HB 1804' will have to wait until next year," he said.
The lawmaker said he's revisiting his plan "not because of any lack of political will on the House side," but because "the bill(s) would face an almost certain death" in the Senate, given the present political climate.
"With the Senate evenly split, and it being an election year," Terrill said the prospect of passing the two bills into law is slim.
But, he said, he plans to amend an incoming Senate bill within the next three weeks to include the language related to making English the official language of the state.
By doing that, the bill won't have to go through the committee process for approval when it returns to the Senate. Instead, it will go straight to a hearing on the full Senate floor, receiving an up or down vote.
"I don't want it failing in committee, and then having that used as a technical reason not to hear it on the floor," Terrill said.
He wouldn't disclose which Senate bill he plans use as a vehicle for the language, though, nor the Senate author.
"I'm not at liberty to discuss that, but all the relevant parties involved in the amending of the bill have been informed," Terrill said.
Even though he won't be running the full "Son of 1804" until next year, Terrill's still actively defending it against critics, particularly his proposal to require local school districts to report to the state Department of Education on the numbers of illegal immigrant students filling classrooms.
"They'd report numbers, how much it costs them, and any adverse impact on their ability to educate their students," he explained.
Terrill said he has not "fully fleshed out" how the term "illegal immigrant student" will be defined in the proposed legislation--whether it will apply to children who were born in Mexico and brought over the border illegally, or to children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrant parents--the so-called "anchor babies."
"We don't want to define it as one to the exclusion of the other," Terrill said.
He said critics of his proposal often cite the 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Plyer v. Doe, which established that states are required to provide an education to all children, whether they're in the country legally or not.
"It's an urban legend that that case precludes the state from inquiring into the status of students or their parents. It doesn't," the lawmaker said.
Terrill said Oklahomans don't know the extent to which illegal immigration is straining the public education system and other social services because reliable data isn't collected on how many illegal aliens are currently in the system.
"You can't change what you've never quantified, because you can't quantify what's never been enforced," he said.
Meanwhile, on the national stage Oklahoma's Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe is advancing legislation to make English the official language of the United States.
His is among 15 different pieces of proposed legislation for national immigration reform.
Last week, Inhofe referenced HB 1804 to motivate his fellow lawmakers to agree on a national solution to illegal immigration, warning that other states will likely enact similar legislation if the federal government doesn't act soon to solve the problem of illegal immigration.
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