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Oklahoma high court upholds most of state immigration law

The Oklahoma Supreme Court [official website] Tuesday upheld [opinion] a state immigration law [HB 1804 text, PDF] as constitutional except for a section denying bail to illegal immigrants charged with crimes. The court ruled 8-1 that HB 1804's denial of bail to illegal immigrants charged with felonies or for driving under the influence was unconstitutional because it infringed on the authority of the trial judge. One judge dissented arguing that HB 1804 was entirely constitutional. What was validated [The Oklahoman report] were provisions authorizing law enforcement to use concurrent authority with the federal government to control illegal immigration, to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving drivers' licenses or state-issued ID cards, making illegal immigrants inelligible for state assistance, and requiring employers to check the immigration status of its employees. The challenge was brought [JURIST report] by Michael Thomas who argued that HB 1804 unconstitutionally delegates authority to the federal government and unconstitutionally appropriates money for the establishment of a department of immigration. But the court concluded that HB 1804 merely cooperates with federal authority and that HB 1804 does not attempt to regulate who may come into the country, but uses the federal government's database to confirm immigration status.

The challenge focused solely on issues of state law as the federal courts have already enjoined portions of the bill from taking effect. Last year, the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] affirmed a preliminary injunction [JURIST report] of HB 1804, but did permit the state to enact a provision whereby businesses would have to check their employment roster against a state list of eligible workers through a pilot program. A district court judge had originally issued the injunction [JURIST report] blocking enforcement in 2008 concluding that it was "substantially likely" that the provisions are preempted by federal immigration law, and that there was a risk of harm to the plaintiffs if the challenged provisions were to come into effect on July 1, 2008. Last month, the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruled in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting [Cornell LII backgrounder] to uphold an Arizona immigration [JURIST report] law that imposes penalties on businesses that hire illegal immigrants. There are currently federal court challenges over preemption of other immigration bills passed by Arizona and Georgia [JURIST reports].

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