OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – Oklahoma Republicans have blasted a state representative who suggests turning over English-as-a-second-language students to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
State Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, told CBS-affiliate KWTV on May 10 about several proposals by the 22-member Republican Platform Caucus, including one that involved handing over 82,000 non-English-speaking children in the state.
“Identify them and then turn them over to ICE to see if they truly are citizens, and do we really have to educate non-citizens?” Ritze asked.
As the state faces a $900-million budget shortfall, the caucus believes the move could save the state $60 million.
Ritze’s proposal flies in the face of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1982 ruling in Plyler v. Doe, which bans states from denying undocumented students a free public education. In a 5-4 majority ruling, the high court concluded a policy at a Texas school district that attempted to do just that infringed on equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Undocumented children could not be discriminated against unless justified by a substantial state interest, according to the Supreme Court. State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, R-Tulsa, quickly shot down Ritze’s proposal.
“We shouldn’t try to fix the budget hole by threatening children,” she tweeted on May 11. “We are better than that.”
Republican Gov. Mary Fallin also spoke out in opposition to the proposed citizenship test.
“That’s not on the table for me,” she told KWTV on Friday. “I’ll just take that off the table right now. Real simple.”
House Floor Leader and state Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, told CNN the proposal is a “bad idea.”
“Just because you’re an ESL student doesn’t mean you’re automatically a non-citizen,” he said Friday.
Outcry against the proposal, including expletives, flooded Ritze’s Facebook profile. One user called him a “moron” before going on to declare that speaking Spanish “is not a pre-cursor for being a criminal.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma criticized the caucus for using “cheap, tired tactics of political distraction” to obscure the state’s “true problem” of a “failing” legislature.
“Indeed, the Oklahoma Legislature is a far greater threat to the safety and prosperity of Oklahomans than any child that may have entered this Nation from one of our borders,” Ryan Kiesel, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “This proposal might be laughable if it weren’t made at the expense of real human beings, common decency, and the United States Constitution. Threatening 82,000 children with arrest and internment that would turn their entire lives upside down is disgustingly inhumane.”
The caucus made several other suggestions to reduce the budget gap, including the elimination of all “non-essential, non-instructional employees” at state colleges to save $328 million. It also considered eliminating transferable tax credits offered to companies as incentives that they can later sell if their tax liabilities are lesser than the credits awarded. Ritze told KWTV that proposal could save the state up to $200 million.
Ritze is a medical doctor who was first elected to House District 80 in 2008. His office did not immediately respond to an email message requesting comment Friday evening.