TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A federal judge denied late Wednesday a request by Latino groups to block the implementation of a new state law targeting illegal immigrants, paving the way for the bill to take effect in a matter of hours. In a two-page ruling, U.S. District Judge James H. Payne wrote that the plaintiffs failed to introduce evidence in support of their motion.
The Latino groups sought the preliminary injunction to stop the new law, which would bar illegal immigrants from obtaining jobs or state assistance and make it a felony to harbor or transport illegal aliens.
Payne threw out an earlier attempt by the group to stop the measure, saying the plaintiffs could not show they were harmed by a law that hadn't taken effect yet.
In its second filing, the group added several unidentified illegal immigrants who have been told they must move from their rent homes because of the new law.
Both sides assembled outside the federal courthouse for an often tense news conference following Wednesday's hearing. The Hispanic leaders were interrupted at least twice by residents who supported the new law, and a driver in one car yelled an ethnic slur at the group.
The Rev. Miguel Rivera, president of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, said that a decision to prevent the law from taking effect would help bring calm to the Latino community. Rivera also pledged to fight the law to the U.S. Supreme Court if he had to.
``I know 25,000 or more of my Latino people have been afraid and they have left this state,'' Rivera said.
He said the eyes of the nation are watching to see what action the state takes regarding the new law, which is billed by its backers as one of the toughest anti-illegal immigration laws in the country.
Hispanic activist Victor Orta said, ``Our families have been receiving eviction notices that, beginning tonight, if they cannot prove their status here, they will be evicted.''
Orta also said he was astonished at the silence of other Anglo churches on the matter.
Supporters of the new law said state legislation was needed because federal authorities had failed to act.
``They want to move Mexico here. They do not want to assimilate. I have a problem with that,'' said Tulsa resident Dan Howard, a former Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper.
Howard began his news conference by saying he would address the crowd in English, because ``I'm standing in the USA.'' Hispanic leaders earlier spoke to the audience in English, then Spanish.
Carol Helm, director of Immigration Reform for Oklahoma Now, said the bill restates the importance of following labor and tax laws.
``It just seems that every month, the rate of illegals just continues to grow, and that's a stated fact by the Hispanic organizations,'' Helm said. ``Common sense says how many, how much, what is the break-even point which the state can absorb?''
Immigrant rights groups have long decried the legislation, saying it unnecessarily repeats federal law, dehumanizes people and panders to people with racial biases. They say tens of thousands of Hispanics have already fled Oklahoma ahead of the law taking effect.
Some churches have also come out against the law. On Tuesday, a representative of Catholic Charities delivered more than 1,000 signed pledges of resistance to H.B. 1804 to Gov. Brad Henry's office.
Nina Perales, Southwest regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said there was more puffery to the law than substance.
Even so, she said many at the community level are concerned it will unleash immigration raids, increase racial profiling and split up families.
``It is a ridiculously redundant piece of legislation,'' Perales said. ``These are all federal laws that are already on the books.''
The Rev. Luis-Carlos Sanchez, vice president of the Coalition of Hispanic Organizations, said the bill has already ``opened the doors for every kind of prejudice and every kind of racial profiling.''
``If we call them criminals, we can abuse them and take advantage,'' he said. ``We have done this with the Native Americans, calling them savages, and African-Americans, calling them less than whites, and we are doing this again.''
The bill's author, Republican state lawmaker Randy Terrill, has said the people of Oklahoma support meaningful immigration reform and repeatedly stated he was confident it would hold up if challenged in the courts.
Originally aired 10/31/2007 10:33 AM - Updated 10/31/2007 8:55 PM