Epic Text Books
April 22, 2024
Democracy Watch

House Advances Controversial Immigration Bill

Assistant Floor Leader Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, applauds during Gov. Kevin Stitt's sixth State of the State speech on Feb. 5, 2024. (Whitney Bryen/Epic Text Books)

By Keaton Ross | Democracy/Criminal Justice Reporter

The Oklahoma House of Representatives advanced a bill on Thursday to make being undocumented a criminal offense, sparking pushback from the Democratic minority who argued the measure will have unintended consequences.

House Bill 4156 creates the criminal offense of impermissible occupation. If the measure becomes law, first time offenders would face a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. A second or subsequent offense is a felony punishable by up to two years in prison. Attorney General Gentner Drummond requested the legislation last month.

The Republican-led push for a state-level immigration law comes after Texas passed a law late last year to allow state and local police officers to arrest individuals suspected of being in the country illegally. The U.S. Supreme Court briefly gave the green light for Texas to enforce the measure last month, but an appeals court subsequently blocked that decision.

“Those who jump the line, and skip the process, cheapen the value of the work put in by those who went through the full legal process to become a citizen of our great country,” House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said in a statement after the measure passed. “We will not reward that behavior in Oklahoma.”

The Senate could take up the measure this week. Its lead sponsor in the upper chamber is Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

All 20 House Democrats voted no on the proposal. Rep. Arturo Alonso-Sandoval, a Democrat from south Oklahoma City where the majority of residents are Hispanic, argued that the bill would cause law-abiding and tax-paying residents to flee. 

“There are current, undocumented Oklahomans that this bill completely ignores,” he said. “These are people who have been here for decades and contributed millions in tax dollars. The passage of this bill ignores that undocumented Oklahomans pay over $26 million in taxes and provides no way to amend that gap in tax dollars. Not only that, it promotes racial profiling which puts every Oklahoman at risk.”

House Minority Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City, said the measure would likely get tied up in the courts if it's signed into law and could ultimately be unenforceable.

“Securing the border is the responsibility of the federal government,” Munson said in a statement. “It is clear that this legislation is a political tactic meant to promote the GOP during an election year.”

Have thoughts, story ideas or tips? Let me know at Kross@Oklahomawatch.org.

What I'm Reading This Week:
  • Measure Would Make It Harder For Citizens to Get Issues on Oklahoma Ballots: Rep. Mark Lepak, R-Claremore, said the changes are necessary to ensure the “integrity” of the process. Lepak is the House author. Critics suggested the requirement of a legal first and last name could disenfranchise voters who either do not know it or who use a name other than their legal first and last name. [Oklahoma Voice]
  • Oklahoma House Includes Income Tax Cut in Released Budget Plan; Senate Remains Opposed: House Speaker Charles McCall and Appropriations and Budget Chair Kevin Wallace introduced their chamber’s proposed state budget for Fiscal Year 2025 Tuesday, but the inclusion of an income tax cut and a $1 billion gap between the House and Senate plans, means the fight over how to spend state tax dollars continues. [KGOU]
  • Election Board Keeps HD 37, HD 66 Challengers on Ballot: The three-member board voted unanimously that Rep. Ken Luttrell, R-Poonca City, failed to provide enough proof to toss out the candidacy of independent Carter Rogers of Fairfax. Similarly, Rep. Clay Staires, R-Skiatook, lost his bid to have the board throw out the candidacy of Libertarian Kenneth Blevins of Sand Springs. [NonDoc]

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