A proposal by a newly formed caucus of Republican legislators at the state capitol has received swift and harsh backlash after they suggested rounding up more tens of thousands of students to be screened for deportation.
The proposal, made by the newly formed GOP Platform Caucus with an unknown number members, was found in the faction’s list of suggestions to fill the state’s $878 million budget hole.
Rep. Mike Ritze (R-Tulsa) said the caucus estimates there are 82,000 non-English speaking students in Oklahoma and members would like to “identify them and then turn them over to ICE to see if they truly are citizens.” They believe rounding up students in a manner that could lead to their deportation would save the state $60 million dollars.
“Do we really have to educate non-citizens?” Ritze asked when explaining the plan. The answer to his question according to U.S., however, is yes.
The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision Plyler v. Doe guaranteed the right for all children living in the country to a public education, regardless of nationality or citizenship. Any discrimination against a student because of their citizenship status violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
It’s unclear how Ritze reached his claimed figure. Schools in Oklahoma don’t ask whether their students are citizens. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 2.6-percent of Oklahoma’s population is comprised of undocumented immigrants.
The proposal is also coming under heavy criticism as “racial profiling.”
Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma Ryan Kiesel said the proposal was “almost laughable if it weren’t made at the expense of real human beings…” in a release sent out by the organization.
“Indeed, Oklahoma Legislature is a far greater threat to safety and prosperity of Oklahomans than any child that may have entered this Nation from one of our borders,” he said, adding even the suggesting of arresting and detaining school aged children was “disgustingly inhumane.”
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister (R-Tulsa) also tweeted in response to a Tulsa World article about the proposal.
“We shouldn’t try to fix the budget hole by threatening Children," Hofmeister tweeted. "We are better than that.”
It’s unclear how many members the caucus actually boasts. According to the Oklahoma non-partisan civic education organization Let’s Fix This, Ritze is joined by Sean Roberts (R-Tulsa), Chuck Strohm (R-Tulsa), John Bennett (R-Sallisaw), George Faught (R-Muskogee) and Jeff Coody (R-Grandfield).
An unverified twitter account claiming to be associated with the caucus says the group has 22 official members.
The group of men is considered one of the most conservative of the Republican controlled state government. Several have made controversial statements in recent years, some with racist overtones.
In a 2013 MSNBC interview, Ritze referred to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as “the black judge.”
Bennett has repeatedly been derided for racist or Islamophobic statements, including calling the religion a “cancer.” Most recently he was criticized for handing out an offensive questionnaire to Muslims during Muslim Day at the Capitol. The survey was tracked back to an Anti-Islam extremist group.
Faught recently said rape and incest were the “will of God” during a debate on a controversial abortion bill, prompting outrage from women’s and sexual assault victims advocacy groups.
Ritze said this week the caucus didn’t want to release the full list of budget solution proposals because they were still being discussed with leadership.
A request for comment from the Speaker of the House Charles McCall (R-Atoka) was not immediately returned.