Charities Wonder How They'll Be Affected By Immigration Law

Sunday, October 21st 2007, 7:39 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Charities and social service agencies in Oklahoma are saying it's not their role to enforce a new state law that cracks down on illegal immigration. But the co-author of the measure replies that the work of those organizations might be affected by the law, whether they like it or not.

"Everybody needs to take a deep breath for a minute," said state Representative Randy Terrill, R-Moore. "It's a new law, and it effectively changes the rules of the game."

Considered one of the toughest in the nation, House Bill 1804 creates barriers for undocumented immigrants to receive public benefits and jobs. It also makes it illegal to transport or harbor illegal immigrants, making violations a felony punishable by a minimum of one year in prison or a $1,000 fine.

It is scheduled to take effect November 1, although a Latino group has asked a federal judge in Tulsa for an injunction to prevent enforcement of the law.

Terrill acknowledges that the bill could affect social service agencies and notes that he "intentionally modified it where it could have broader implications." He said, "if taxpayer money is involved, citizens have a right to attach strings."

Officials from those agencies said they already have noticed a decline in the number of Hispanics seeking services and that the law could well drive families underground.

"The dignity of a person is a gift from God, not a status to be earned," said Richard Klinge, the legal adviser and Associate Director of Catholic Charities. "That's the core teaching that gives us the right to say we are going to continue with our mission, and we will not change who we serve."

United Way Executive Director Bob Spinks said that agency agrees that people ought to obey the law.

"But who is supposed to be the enforcer of the law? Our job is to help people -- period," he said. "As far as having to verify someone's citizenship, that's not our role, nor has it ever been."

One agency with an office in the heart of one of Oklahoma City's predominantly Hispanic areas -- the Community Action Agency – said it intends to comply with the law. Its Executive Director, James Scoazo, said he has no opinion about the issue "until I see what the effect is. Right now, everybody is just speculating."

For complete coverage of House Bill 1804, click here.