Guest worker plan draws mixed reviews at Capitol

OKLAHOMA CITY – A legislative proposal to create a state guest worker program for illegal immigrants is getting mixed reviews at the Capitol.

While some applaud Sen. Harry Coates, R-Seminole, for authoring it, many say it won't secure passage.

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“I will probably support it,” said Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre, D-Tulsa. “Now, will it go anywhere? I don't think so.”

Coates earlier this month filed Senate Bill 995, which would allow illegal immigrants who meet certain conditions to work in the state.

Coates said the reaction from the general public has been negative, but those in the contracting industry support it because they are having trouble filling positions.

Illegal immigration has been a divisive issue among lawmakers and the public.

Sen. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, anticipates filing more bills cracking down on illegal immigration following the passage of House Bill 1804 in 2007.

“Fair consideration wasn't given to any of the immigration related legislation that anyone filed last year,” Terrill said. “It was all routed through a joint immigration committee that was not a committee formed for the purposes of cracking down on illegal immigration, but for killing real meaningful immigration reform.”

Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, said he wouldn't want to do anything that alters House Bill 1804, a measure he called a good bill.¬†“I understand what Sen. Coates is trying to do, but this is fundamentally a federal issue,” Crain said.

Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa, had similar comments.

“I think it is an issue that can be discussed,” Newberry said. “I don't know that there is anything the state can really do to initiate a guest worker program. It is a federal issue.”

The bill directs the Labor Department to seek waivers from the federal government to implement the program. Labor Commissioner Mark Costello could not be reached for comment.

Rep. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, said he hasn't read the bill.

“I will say Harry Coates should be commended for taking the effort to say where do we begin the discussion and how do we find a way to legitimize, quite frankly, our system so that it is fair,” Shumate said.

Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, said he would vote for the measure, but didn't think it would get a hearing.

“I wish (Coates' bill) would,” Wilson said. “We need to discuss it this. We need to start acting like adults.”

Gov. Mary Fallin has not reviewed the measure, said Alex Weintz, a Fallin spokesman.

“It is too early to comment further except to say she would not support anything that resembles amnesty,” Weintz said.

Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, said he has an open mind about the legislation, but doubted it would get passed.

“A lot of people are closed-minded to begin with about it,” Cox said.

Coates has said the measure could pass if it gets backed by the business community.

Last week, Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage of Claremore told members of the State Chamber that they should have been more vocal regarding the negative impact some of last year's measures would have had on businesses.

State Chamber President Fred Morgan declined an interview but released a statement.

“It is the State Chamber's policy that immigration is a federal issue that should be addressed with a comprehensive federal solution,” Morgan said in the statement.

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