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Monday’s snowstorm prevented Oklahoma lawmakers from voting on a bill that would require county jails to comply with detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
As President Biden prepares to unveil a more inclusive approach to immigration on the federal level, and potentially a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, the only thing stopping state lawmakers from forcing county jails to honor ICE detainer requests was an unprecedented snowstorm.
State Senator David Bullard (R-OK) authored Senate Bill 781, which reads: “All sheriffs, jailers, prison keepers and their deputies who have custody of persons who are subject to an immigration detainer request issued by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement shall comply with, honor and fulfill any request made in the immigration detainer request provided by the federal government.”
Dream Action Oklahoma-Tulsa, an organization aimed at supporting the local immigrant community through advocacy and education, released a call to action on their Facebook page Sunday. “We are calling on community members to contact committee members who will be hearing this bill on Monday,” the post read, asking the community to encourage lawmakers to vote against the measure.
Another immigrant advocacy group, New Sanctuary Network Tulsa, announced that calls were going straight to voicemail Monday morning. “We have been leaving messages all morning. Keep the pressure on!”
But it looks as though mother nature was applying pressure of its own.
Blasting through the state with record-low temperatures and several inches of snow, Winter Storm Uri brought communities across the state to a standstill, including the Oklahoma State Legislature.
Senate Bill 781 was set to be heard in the Senate Public Safety Committee on Monday, February 16, after a similar bill died in session last year. It would take power away from local communities to end their partnerships with ICE.
Essentially, a government known for invoking states’ rights in matters of gun safety, abortion and health care, would be forking over those rights completely to federal officers known for ripping undocumented residents from their families and communities.
While Oklahoma City voted last Fall to honor ICE detainer requests in the notoriously death-prone Oklahoma County Jail, other communities have taken a different approach.
After years of activism and education campaigns from local advocates, Tulsa County canceled its detainer contract with ICE last Summer. But its 287g program—which turns over to ICE immigrants who were initially booked on unrelated offenses— remains intact.
SB 781, if approved, would cancel out the work communities have made to take control over their local immigration laws.
Meanwhile, the Biden Administration announced it finally plans to send a bill to Congress that would bring long-fought for relief to the millions of undocumented residents across the nation.
The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which Biden promised to send to Congress on day one of his administration, would offer a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Starting with allowing people to apply for temporary legal status, the bill would undo years of harsh states’ stances on immigration that filled the void in federal law.
And as crowds of immigrants continue approaching the border, with outrage from lawmakers as ICE continues to inhumanely deport mostly black immigrants, the pressure is on for Biden to deliver.
For now, Oklahoma lawmakers are looking to strike first. SB 781 is still scheduled for a vote in the Senate Public Safety Committee. The next meeting is Monday, February 23.