A Washington County lawmaker says he's not deterred by a lawsuit filed recently against an Oklahoma law aimed at cracking down on undocumented immigrants and those who hire, harbor or transport them.
Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, says he will watch the suit, but he still plans to introduce a bill modeled after the Oklahoma law, which is considered one of the nation's toughest state immigration laws.
The suit was filed recently by the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and other plaintiffs, including two churches, a restaurant and unnamed individuals. It claims the Oklahoma law violates the U.S. and Oklahoma constitutions and federal law. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to try and stop the law from taking effect on Nov. 1.
Rohit Sharma, an attorney for the plaintiffs, says the law is vague enough that it "could have a lot of different meanings." He said it violates constitutional rights to due process and equal protection and that it attempts to override federal authority when it comes to immigration.
"Immigration is set by the federal government and enforced by the federal government," he said. "The main argument we have is the state of Oklahoma is trying to enforce immigration laws."
But Rep. Randy Terrill, the Oklahoma lawmaker who sponsored the bill, says his law was crafted with federal mandates in mind.
"Those arguments are complete nonsense," Terrill said. "It is a cooperative enforcement of federal immigration law."
Hickman, who has yet to review the suit, said he doubts it will impact his efforts to pass legislation here. Hickman's bill is being drafted.
"Since the federal government and the federal Congress has been absolutely incapable of addressing this issue, I can't imagine how they'd ever make that case," he said. "It would be a joke to try and negate the law based on that."
He also questioned claims that the law could violate the rights of undocumented immigrants or employers, saying, "Illegal immigrants, or undocumented noncitizens, don't have constitutional rights."
But Salt Lake attorney Brian Barnard predicted that a Utah law similar to Oklahoma's would spark litigation. He said while illegal immigrants don't have constitutional protections afforded only to citizens, they do have protections given to all persons.
"They do have certain rights," he said. "There is a distinction between persons being protected and citizens being protected."
In Oklahoma, Sharma says, there are already negative impacts of the law, though it has yet to take effect.
"It's decimating businesses here," he said. "The economy is really slowing down in Tulsa. Employers are having a hard time finding people to work here."
He added that a provision that allows terminated employees to sue an employer who also has undocumented workers on the payroll could leave employers with a dim choice keep a problematic employee on staff, or fire everyone.
But Terrill said there are safeguards to protect employers and landlords making a good-faith effort to verify the legal status of potential employees or renters through federal verification systems. He said the bill was carefully crafted to get tough on illegal immigration but also to safeguard against discrimination based on national origin."There seems to be significant anecdotal evidence that there are large numbers of illegal immigrants who are leaving Oklahoma," he said. "That's what we intended to do. ... These people aren't eligible for employment in the first place."