U.S. Chamber Leads Challenge of State Immigration Law in Okla

Article excerpt

The Chamber of Commerce of the United States, Oklahoma-based chambers and other groups filed suit in federal court Friday challenging portions of Oklahoma's strict new immigration law.

In addition to the national chamber, other plaintiffs include the The State Chamber of Oklahoma, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, Metropolitan Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, Oklahoma Restaurant Association and the Oklahoma Hotel and Lodging Association.

The groups are also seeking an injunction to block enforcement of those sections while the lawsuit is pending.

However, state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, principal author of the law, said he expects it to survive the latest challenge as it did previous legal actions filed by Hispanic groups and churches in Tulsa federal court.

"This is just another in a series of attempts by the pro-illegal- alien lobby and their allies, who profit from cheap illegal-alien labor, to accomplish through the judicial process what they were unable to accomplish through the legislative process, namely the defeat of House Bill 1804," Terrill said.

He said what the groups are defending "is the functional equivalent of modern-day slavery" in the economic exploitation and subjugation of a particular group of people.

"It wasn't morally acceptable in the context of slavery and it's not morally acceptable in the context of illegal alien labor today," Terrill said.

Richard Rush, president and CEO of The State Chamber, said the groups launched the lawsuit to advocate for and protect their members. He said the chamber's mission is to protect Oklahoma jobs.

"To accomplish our mission, we must protect Oklahoma's business community from state laws and regulations which make them less competitive than those in other states and around the world," Rush said.

Specifically, the organizations are challenging sections requiring businesses to verify the work authorization status of independent contractors, and requiring contractors who desire to do business with the state to participate in a status verification system for new employees.

Organization officials said that businesses face state tax penalties if they do not verify the worker status of independent contractors. They also said that under the law, discharged workers can bring discrimination claims against businesses if they can show the employer knew or should have known that another worker was unauthorized.

"If these provisions are allowed to enter into force while this litigation is pending, plaintiffs and their members will suffer irreparable harm," they said in their motion for a preliminary injunction.

They contend that Congress has preempted regulation of such issues under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Chamber officials said that a Pennsylvania federal court ruled last July that similar state and local regulation of unauthorized workers interferes with congressional objectives and is unconstitutional.

Roy Williams, president of the Oklahoma City chamber, said the law brings new challenges to the companies his group represents.

"If we follow the new state law, we violate federal law," Williams said. "That is a predicament no Oklahoma company should face."

Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa chamber, said that participation in the lawsuit does not equate to support of illegal immigration.

"The Tulsa region is outpacing the rest of the nation in job growth," Neal said. "Oklahoma's HB 1804 requires our businesses to police immigration issues through an erroneous system, reduces the pool of legal workers and harms the ability of Oklahoma businesses to grow. …