Sen. Harry Coates will be continuing his fight for immigration reform in Oklahoma this coming session. On Thursday, he filed Senate Bill 22 to create the Guest Worker Permit Program Act. He filed the bill last year and although it did not receive a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, he hopes the measure will be given fair consideration this year.
“The National Republican Party finally acknowledged the importance to our nation’s economy of having some type of guest worker program when they endorsed one in their national platform this summer,” said Coates. “Nothing came of the endorsement but following the presidential election, the Republican Party got a major wakeup call when they lost numerous states due to the Hispanic vote and President Obama won 78 percent of the non-white vote. I think the party realizes that they’re going to have to consider some kind of immigration reform or they will continue to suffer in elections.”
Under SB 22, the state Department of Labor would administer the program which would allow undocumented individuals, 18 years of age or older, to stay in the state legally if they purchase a guest worker permit for $1,000. Individuals would also have to find a guest worker program sponsor who would agree to hire them as well as provide them with basic health insurance coverage. Should a worker lose his or her job, they would have 30 days to find another employer to sponsor them.
Those who agreed to a criminal background check and did not have a felony on their record would be eligible for the program. Workers would also have to provide a residential address as well as a phone number in order for officials to stay in contact with them.
There are a few changes from the previous version of the bill. Unlike last year’s bill, SB 22 would not prohibit the worker from receiving unemployment compensation, nor require them to provide adequate evidence to the Department of Labor that they would not operate a motor vehicle. The new bill also lowers the application and renewal fee from $2,000 to $1,000.
Coates pointed out that the Census Bureau said this week that by 2043 Hispanics will be the majority rather than whites.
“My bill would allow illegal immigrants to legally work in the state providing a much-needed boost to sales and tax revenues,” said Coates. “Our country is changing and government can no longer afford to ignore the Hispanic population. I hope Senate leadership realizes this and gives Senate Bill 22 due consideration so we can have an educated discussion based on facts and statistics about how best to address immigration issues in Oklahoma.”