Tulsa Conference Unleashes Heated Debate over State Immigration Law

Article excerpt

Sebastian Lantos called Oklahoma's new immigration law inhuman, unethical, and immoral. Kris Kobach said it helped Oklahoma comply with several key federal immigration laws.

Francisco Trevino equated it to racism. Kobach thought it humanizing and fair.

Linda Allegro referred to state House Bill 1804 as our best example of a policy of exclusion. Kobach, who preferred the Arizona law for a case study, said both experiments proved effective at freely encouraging people to obey the law.

The University of Tulsa's broad investigation of state and federal immigration law trends Friday could not escape the divisive shadow of Oklahoma's controversial law. The Tulsa Journal of Comparative and International Law Symposium saw panelists voice criticism of 1804 in almost every program. The panel on inclusivity or exclusivity quickly emerged a lopsided tag-team match, with almost every point debated.

"When immigration laws are enforced poorly, that's when claims of inhumanity are raised most," said Kobach, a professor of law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.

From his insights as the director of U.S. Department of Justice efforts to tighten border security and immigration rules of law after the 2001 terrorist attacks, and as senior counsel at the Immigration Reform Law Institute in Washington, D.C., Kobach said the new laws in Oklahoma and Arizona try to rectify perceived problems by augmenting inadequate federal enforcement resources with local resources and tapping electronic databases that nullify fraudulent documentation.

Kobach estimated the number of people unlawfully in the United States at anywhere from 12 million to 20 million - representing not just Hispanic, but many other ethnic backgrounds and cultures. That to Kobach broadened the issue beyond race, although it did not lessen other panelist protests, many seeing the law as profiling Hispanics.

"Oklahoma has become ground zero to see if this works," said Lantos, the owner of the translation services company Sebastian Lantos LLC. "We want safe borders. We want people to check out and we agree with the rule of the law. But we have to change the law."

Linda Allegro, a TU visiting assistant professor of political science, said 1804's denial of local and state services to illegal residents and increased local enforcement of immigration laws opened the doors to selective and unfair targeting. She added the refrain that 1804 was to encourage legalization only shielded its backers from racism allegations.

Kobach said the bill offered an alternative from the only other perceived options: mass roundups of illegals or granting mass amnesty, which he equated to simply rewarding people for breaking the law.

"No other area of law uses that dichotomy," he said, making comparisons from drunk driving to theft. "Most areas of law ratchet up enforcement."

Kobach compared 1804 to placing a traffic cop at a known speeding zone - which leads to changed behavior due to the realistic probability of enforcement.

Huyen Pham, associate professor of law at Texas Wesleyan University, spoke of the difficulties in charting the effects of recent state and local immigration efforts, although that didn't keep others from trying.

Since HB 1804 took effect Nov. 1, more than 25,000 Hispanics voluntarily left Oklahoma for new homes in neighboring states or their native lands, said Allegro. Lantos estimated 30,000 had left just the Tulsa area.

Both Allegro and Kobach called that voluntary deportation, but where Allegro said it reflected a policy of exclusion, Kobach said it provides the most economical solution.

"By definition, immigration laws are exclusive," he said, a reality forced on nations by difficult resource allocation choices. "Every country on earth wants control on those people."

Kobach said our nation's efforts to increase security after 9/11 illustrated how the federal government had no system of immigration departure controls. …