Oklahoma's Immigration Transformation

Temperatures have been in the upper 70s in Oklahoma City this week, perfect weather for flip-flops. That might explain why Governor Brad Henry signed a ...
by | May 11, 2007

Temperatures have been in the upper 70s in Oklahoma City this week, perfect weather for flip-flops.

That might explain why Governor Brad Henry signed a tough immigration bill, which, among many other things, gutted a law that made illegal immigrants eligible for college scholarships and in-state tuition. Just four years ago, he gave his approval to that law.

Henry has company. This year's bill passed the state Senate 41-6 and the House 88-14. It's worth noting that the membership of the legislature is quite a bit different than it was in 2003 (the Democrats controlled both houses then, but now the Republicans have the House and the Senate is tied), but, with lopsided votes like that, quite a few members must have changed their minds.

I've never been one to condemn officeholders simply for having changes of heart, although it does make me curious. I'm working on a feature on immigration for the July issue of Governing. One thing I'm trying to figure out is whether there's been a political shift in favor of stricter immigration laws over the past year or two and, if so, why.

Oklahoma's new law is one sign of this shift. It probably goes further in targeting employers of illegal immigrants than any other state law and follows in the footsteps of Georgia and Colorado in making proof of legal residency a prerequisite for public benefits.

Another sign: The changing stance of Congress. Specifically, the Washington Post reported that last year's U.S. Senate immigration bill, which won 62 votes, is running into trouble this year because some of its former supporters now favor a tougher approach. Today's high in D.C., by the way, is expected to be in the mid-eighties.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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