Lawton_Southwest Oklahoma lawmen say there is currently no way they can enforce the state's new landmark immigration bill. Despite efforts by Latino clergy to stop it, Oklahoma House Bill 1804 is set to become one of the toughest illegal immigration laws in the country on November 1st. It will outlaw illegal immigrants from receiving public benefits, and make it a felony for anyone to employ, transport or harbor and illegal immigrant.
But, law enforcement leaders from across the state say it's going to be next to impossible to make it work. They say it boils down to money. They have enough trouble enforcing current laws, and adding the immigration law into the mix is going to be more than they can realistically handle.
Ask almost any police chief or sheriff and they'll tell you the same thing about Oklahoma House Bill 1804. "Another unfunded government mandate," says Lawton Police Chief Ronnie Smith. "It's an unfunded mandate that we don't have the manpower to if they want us to go round up illegals into custody and turn them over to someone else."
But, that's just one problem law enforcement says the immigration law will create. Even if they did take all illegals into custody - they might not have any place to put them. "We wouldn't have a big enough place to put them if we rounded up 50 or 100 we wouldn't have a place to put them," says Smith.
More times than not, Chief Smith says ICE - the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office - chooses not to come and pick up illegals in custody. Instead, they opt to turn them loose if they haven't committed any other crimes. "We're going to continue doing what we're doing."
It's no secret that Jackson County has one of the largest Hispanic populations in the state. Jackson County Roger Levick says there's no doubt many are here illegally. "They're hard working decent folks trying to make a living for their families. They're doing jobs you can't get anyone else to do," he says.
But, the co-author of the immigration bill says that doesn't matter. State Representative Randy Terrill of Moore says the law has passed and now it's up to police to enforce it. He says he finds it troubling that law enforcement would be complaining about doing their job. "I'm not complaining about doing my jobs," says Levick. What he doesn't understand is every time they add a law or something else for us to do, it takes funds - especially when you're talking about illegal aliens."
Levick says they simply don't have enough officers for proper enforcement of the law. "We're not complaining, we just don't have the manpower to take on a task that's always been handled by the federal government," he says. The National Coalition of Latin Clergy has filed a federal lawsuit to stop the law from taking effect. But, so far, the court has not ruled on that request.
The clergy's leader says an estimated 25,000 people have already left the Tulsa area out of fear of the new law.
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