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Controversial Immigration Bill Closer To Becoming Law

The Oklahoma Legislature moves closer to approving a controversial immigration reform bill. State lawmakers took it on after deciding the U.S. Congress wasn't moving fast enough. The proposed law has already passed the House and it passed a State Senate Committee on Tuesday. The News On 6's Emory Bryan reports the bill's designed to block illegal immigrants from getting work or state benefits, but in this latest step it was changed to keep the current college tuition discount for the children of illegal immigrants. The State House created what it's calling the "Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizenship Act," but critics of Bill 1804 call it mean spirited and discriminatory. A key point of controversy was allowing undocumented students to pay the discounted rate of "in state" tuition. The bills author said it didn't make sense because the students couldn't legally work if they graduated.

"For every one of those college scholarships we award to an illegal alien that's a U.S. citizen, an Oklahoman who will not be getting that financial aid," said Representative Randy Terrill of Moore.

The immigration bill moved out of the House to a State Senate Committee, where it was debated and eventually changed slightly to allow the tuition break, if students can prove they're working towards citizenship. Still, it's opposed by the state's Hispanic groups. They believe it will make some employers afraid to hire Mexicans regardless of their status, while agreeing it will probably discourage illegal immigration to Oklahoma.

"If the undocumented folks are aware that Oklahoma has such harsh laws, then they won't be coming here," said Reverend Victor Orta.

Before the bill could become law, Governor Henry would have to sign it, and that's uncertain because he's said illegal immigration was mainly a federal problem.

Representative Terrill believes the full Senate will pass it, and hopes the governor will sign it.

One of the issues with immigration is whether police officers can question a person about their citizenship. HB 1804 would make it a state crime to transport or hide illegal immigrants. That would give police the legal authority to ask the question.

The bill could be changed by the Senate before it gets to the governor, so it's not over.

Originally aired 4/3/2007 1:07 PM - Updated 4/4/2007 7:54 AM

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