Sen. Harry Coates on Thursday addressed his decision to file legislation that would repeal portions of House Bill 1804, citing both economic and moral concerns with the sweeping immigration reform bill approved earlier this year by the Legislature.
Coates said the legislation is already having a negative impact on the Oklahoma economy, as employers in the agricultural and construction industries are beginning to see the first effects of a potential labor shortage. Coates filed Senate Bill 1143 on Wednesday which would repeal parts of the immigration bill.
“What people don’t seem to realize is that the chilling effect of this law has resulted in the loss of both documented and undocumented employees in Oklahoma,” said Coates, R-Seminole. “These are good jobs and they pay good wages, but few American workers are willing to take them. Not only are we losing employees, but we’re losing employers and businesses to surrounding states.”
Coates noted that Oklahoma’s agricultural industry felt an immediate impact following the passage of HB 1804. Oklahoma’s Farm-to-School Program which provides fresh Oklahoma-grown produce to the state’s school children is now at risk due to the passage of HB 1804, the Senator said.
“I’ve personally heard from farmers who have had to leave crops in the field because there are no workers,” Coates said. “Cotton growers in western Oklahoma are among those who are already hurting. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing much more about this from our agricultural community.”
Coates was accompanied by members of both the faith and business communities who expressed support for the effort to repeal parts of the immigration bill. Father Tony Taylor, Chair of the Council of Priests for the Oklahoma City Catholic Archdiocese, said he was pleased Coates had chosen to bring forward his legislation.
“House Bill 1804 is obviously a bad law, and it does not reflect the values of our society,” Taylor said. “I look forward to migratory reform on the federal level that will protect human dignity in our country.”
Jack Gray of Standard Roofing said HB 1804 could force his company out of business. Standard Roofing has been designated as an Oklahoma Centennial Company, having been in operation since 1892.
“We haven’t lost any business, but we will not be able to bid on any future business,” said Gray. “There just aren’t enough Americans who are willing to work construction.”
Rep. Shane Jett, House co-author of Senate Bill 1143, also expressed moral concerns with the consequences of the immigration bill, citing provisions that could have a destructive effect on Oklahoma families.
“I do support the state’s ability to enforce state and federal laws, but they should not be enforced to the detriment of our economy or to the detriment of our moral conscience,” said Jett, R-Tecumseh. “I don’t believe there was a state representative or senator who intended to have a family living in fear. The family is the first institute consecrated by God, and I believe it’s our responsibility to protect families. That’s one of the reasons why I’d like to bring forward legislation to curb some of the unintended consequences of HB 1804.”
Rep. Jett plans to file legislation that would create a pilot program for those who wish to continue working in Oklahoma. Workers would be able to purchase a tax number ID card that would be an affidavit documentation of good-faith intent and effort to comply with Oklahoma state law. Coates plans to co-author the measure in the Senate.
Coates said he understood that Oklahomans want effective immigration reform but that the Legislature must take a closer look at HB 1804 and take another approach.
“We’re all frustrated with the federal government not coming in and doing something that is good for our state and the entire country,” Coates said. “This is a polarizing issue and everyone wants to do something, but I feel a moral obligation to say loud and clear that this legislation is hurting our state.”