Senator Daisy Lawler, Chair of the Senate Task Force on Illegal Immigration Issues, said she was pleased with the group’s first meeting held Monday at the State Capitol.
Members of the task force heard presentations from representatives of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Oklahoma Hospital Association. Additionally, the Immigrant Policy Project Program Director of the National Conference of State Legislatures presented statistics illustrating the scope and costs of illegal immigration nationwide.
Lawler, who requested the creation of the panel to pursue reforms intended to reduce the costs of illegal immigration to taxpayers, said the group’s initial meeting was productive.
“Our meeting today gave everyone a better understanding of how this issue impacts our state,” said Lawler, D-Comanche. “The cost of illegal immigration to Oklahoma is high, and as we move forward with the process, we hope to craft meaningful legislation that will reduce waste and ensure appropriate use of state revenue.”
Nico Gomez of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority noted that while agencies are taking steps to ensure no illegal citizens receives benefits, medical care for illegal immigrants cost Oklahoma taxpayers nearly $10 million last year.
Lawler said the majority of the $10 million can be attributed to increasing child-birth percentages for illegal citizens.
“As DHS informed us today, over 2,600 children were born to illegal citizens in Oklahoma hospitals last year – this is greater than five percent of all births in the state,” she said. “As hospitals can do very little about the issue, these figures illustrate the importance of our upcoming session on law enforcement. Additionally, these statistics give us a better understanding of the increase in illegal immigration to Oklahoma.”
Howard Hendrick, Director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, said the vast majority of illegal immigrants would not be able to receive benefits through programs where eligibility is determined by DHS. Hendrick noted that an illegal citizen would likely have to commit identity theft in order to be eligible for programs such as child assistance, food stamps and Medicaid.
Lawler said the panel will request that a representative from Immigration and Naturalization Services be present at a future meeting.
“There are steps that a state can take to reduce the cost of illegal immigration, but the Federal Government must be more proactive in preventing immigration and removing confirmed illegal citizens,” Lawler said. “Our upcoming sessions on education and law enforcement should continue to be positive steps toward crafting effective legislation.”
Lawler said the task force will meet again in early October. The panel is required to submit a report of its findings and proposed legislation to the Senate President Pro Tempore by November 30, 2006.