This column originally appeared in the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper.
July 2010 - The geographic contrasts between Arizona and Oklahoma are sharp, yet the public concerns about immigration are eerily similar.
On the one hand, Arizona shares a long border with Mexico, and hordes of illegal aliens - looking for work, handouts, or mischief - cross the state’s vast desert with regularity, often with an assist from heavily-armed drug cartels. Thus, SB 1070, one possible solution to the crisis, and the emergence of Jan Brewer as one of the country’s toughest governors.
On the other hand, the wind-swept plains of Oklahoma don’t abut a foreign country, but its location hasn’t discouraged undocumented workers from migrating to the state, applying for and landing jobs, receiving public assistance, and becoming active in gangs. Indeed, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, based in Washington, D.C., estimates that in 2008 the illegal alien population in Oklahoma was 85,000. The organization also projects that by 2020 illegal immigration would cost Oklahoma tax payers over $600 million per year for education, emergency medical care, and incarceration. That is, if nothing is done. Thus, HB 1804, Republican Rep. Randy Terrill’s response to the calamitous issue, and the lawmaker’s emergence as the architect of one of the nation’s toughest immigration laws.
On the one hand, Oklahoma Labor Commissioner candidate Mark Costello, a 54-year-old Edmond businessman and a Republican, believes Oklahomans need to take pro-active measures to prevent further abuses by those illegally residing in their state.
Costello says, “I supported HB 3119 and HB 1804 [which require proof of citizenship for, among other things, employment and state benefits] because people should have to prove their citizenship in order to receive government benefits and work in our state.” He adds, “We should protect our sovereignty and enforce the laws on our books.”
On the other hand, Jason Reese, a 31-year-old Oklahoma City lawyer and Costello’s opponent in the GOP primary, is loathe to restrict access to jobs, schools, and tax dollars for illegal aliens. Reese, in a column he wrote for the Oklahoma Gazette (an alternative newspaper) in 2006, derided supporters of HB 3119 as “vulgar populists” and “nativists.” Reese also favors “some kind of earned legalization,” code words for amnesty.
On the one hand, State Senator Harry Coates (R-Seminole, District 28) is arguably the most bombastic Republican to voice opposition to Randy Terrill. For Terrill’s efforts in attempting to contain unfettered immigration, Coates told the Tulsa World that the representative was a “mad scientist” and labeled his politics “racist.” Coates, a construction industry consultant, who scored a 44 out of a 100 on the 2009 Oklahoma Constitution Conservative Index, has also claimed, “There are not enough Americans who are willing to work construction.” The legislator, described as Harry “TURN” Coates by right-of-center detractors, is the only Republican to cast a vote against HB 1804.
On the other hand, Tim Clem, an Arcadia businessman, who is Coates’ Republican primary challenger, disagrees with his opponent’s anti-law-and-order stance. According to his campaign website, Clem “will not stand for benefits for illegal immigrants or companies that hire illegals and steal tax revenue from the state and jobs from our citizens.”
In an email, Clem wrote, “Yes I would have supported 1804. Because our federal government is not doing their job of protecting our borders, Oklahoma must create state laws such as this. Oklahoma should draft legislation similar to the Arizona law. The majority of Arizona's citizens are for this law because they know firsthand, as a border state, how illegal immigration has affected their security and economy.”
So, on the one hand, Oklahoma Republicans can vote for weaker immigration enforcement by selecting Jason Reese and re-electing Harry Coates. On the other hand, they can cast their ballots for Mark Costello and Tim Clem, who are committed to protecting Sooner State jobs and reserving benefits for legal residents.
The contrasts between these candidates - to resolving Oklahoma’s Arizona-style illegal immigration problems - couldn’t be starker. It will be interesting to see what voters elect to do on July 27th.
photo one: Mark Costello with Joe the Plumber
photo two: Harry Coates