From the ‘git-go’, Oklahoma Republican leaders rebuked controversial proposal
Published: May 13th, 2017
OKLAHOMA CITY – At the end of an already-hectic work week, the majority party in the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Thursday and Friday found itself roiled by controversy over a proposal … that was, from the start, apparently never a formal proposal beyond the ruminations of one Republican in the lower chamber.
A GOP member of the House, in a news story on Thursday (http://www.news9.com/story/35410542/oklahoma-lawmakers-suggest-turning-82000-students-over-to-feds), raised the idea of establishing a means to combat illegal immigration through a policy targeting school attendance by minors (children and young people) who do not speak the English language. But it appears other Republicans rejected the idea, consistently, from the start.
Speaker of the House Charles McCall, R-Atoka, made his negative opinion of the idea crystal clear in a press release from his office on Friday.
In the statement sent to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations, McCall said: “There are currently 72 Republican members in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. A few of those Republicans are also members of the GOP Platform Caucus, which was created just last week. The GOP Platform Caucus speaks only for those members who have joined; it does not speak for the entire 72-member House Republican Caucus. The idea of identifying and detaining non-English speaking students in our public schools has never been considered by the House Republican Caucus since I have been a member of the House of Representatives. Furthermore, the United States Supreme Court has already ruled upon this matter.”
Later Friday afternoon, the co-chairmen of the GOP Platform Caucus issued a statement of their own, saying, “The idea of identifying and detaining non-English speaking students was never discussed in any of our meetings. We absolutely do not support this idea. The House Republican Caucus consists of 72 members who hold a variety of beliefs.”
The two Republican House members, state Rep. Chuck Strohm of Jenks and George Faught of Muskogee, concluded their statement, saying, “The public comments of a single member acting on his own do not reflect those of the Platform Caucus. It is disappointing that the press would take the public comments of a single member and apply them to the entire caucus.” The Platform Caucus, which announced itself on May 4, consists of 22 members.
Strohm had previously clarified the Platform Caucus position on Thursday.
In a news report received at 4:10 p.m. (a couple of hours after a television story that triggered the contretemps), The Associated Press reported, “A leader of a newly created Oklahoma House Republican caucus says the group does not want to deport non-English-speaking school children. Republican state Rep. Chuck Strohm, of Jenks, said Thursday that the Republican Platform Caucus discussed the additional financial burden that students who require additional language instruction can create. But he says he doesn’t recall the deportation of children being discussed.” (http://www.wlox.com/story/35409414/the-latest-lawmaker-says-group-doesnt-want-to-deport-kids)
In an interview with News9 on Friday, Governor Fallin said, concerning the idea, “That’s not on the table for me. I’ll just take that off the table right now. Real simple.”
The AP reported Strohm and others in the Platform Caucus were “surprised” when a member told News9 in Oklahoma City that the Sooner State could save $60 million by identifying 82,000 non-English speaking students “and then turn them over” to immigration officials “to determine if they are citizens.”
Like Fallin, House Republican Floor Leader Jon Echols of Oklahoma City rebuffed the idea quickly. He said, “I have no desire to target (English as a second language) students. That’s a bad idea. (http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/state/broken-arrow-lawmaker-s-idea-to-target-non-english-speaking/article_0ebe35f6-634c-534f-b4a2-6febc6796eea.html
Critics of the idea, and some news stories, began, on Thursday, to refer to the matter as “a caucus suggestion” or as a “caucus proposal.”
In one story referencing the idea as a “proposal,” Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister was reported sending a tweet that said, “We shouldn’t try to fix the budget hole by threatening Children. We are better than that.”
In a news story entitled, “Oklahoma lawmakers suggest turning 82,000 students over to the feds.” state Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, said GOP Platform Caucus members wanted to identify non-English-speaking students in the state “and then turn them over to ICE to see if they truly are citizens.” Ritze asked, “Do we really have to educate non-citizens?”
In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in ‘Plyler v. Doe’ fashioned a right for all children in the U.S. to a public education. The court majority relied on the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in the decision, crafted in a 5-4 decision (http://newsok.com/article/5548820?slideout=1).
The case came as a challenge to a Texas law.
In that original case, four justices declined to strike the Lone Star State legislation, even while agreeing it was unwise to deny any children a public education. The four dissenters said the underlying Texas law was not unconstitutional, and that the issue should be dealt with through the legislative process (with Congress, in that context, mentioned specifically).
In a release on Thursday concerning what it characterized as “the Republican Platform Caucus proposal,” the American Civil Liberties of Union of Oklahoma assailed the Ritze idea. Former Democrat state Rep. Ryan Kiesel, who is now ACLU-Oklahoma executive director, said the idea “is an attempt to create confusion about Oklahoma’s true problem – a failing Legislature.” (http://acluok.org/2017/05/aclu-of-oklahoma-response-to-legislative-threats-to-deport-oklahoma-students/)