A lawmaker in the Oklahoma House says non-English speaking students should be turned over to immigration officials “to see if they truly are citizens.” He says the move could save the state $60 million, while critics slam the idea as “utterly shameful.”
Mike Ritze – a member of the newly created 22-member Republican Platform Caucus – claims there are 82,000 non-English speaking students in Oklahoma, and that turning them in could be a financially positive move for the state.
“Identify them and then turn them over to ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to see if they truly are citizens, and do we really have to educate non-citizens?” he told News 9.
It’s unclear whether he was suggesting turning the children’s names in, or if believes the students should be physically rounded up.
Ritze said the move would save the state about $60 million, as it would no longer have to educate non-citizens.
However, it appears Ritze didn’t do his homework before making the suggestion. A 1982 Supreme Court ruling says that states cannot deny students free public education based on their immigration status.
In addition, data from the State Department of Education appears to show that Ritze’s figures are overblown.
According to the department, there are actually about 50,000 English learners in pre-K through 12th grade in Oklahoma’s public schools. Many of those could be US citizens.
Some were quick to distance themselves from the lawmaker’s comments, including fellow members of the Republican caucus.
“On this subject of deporting students, that is not a position that we support,” Rep. Chuck Strohm, the co-chairman of the caucus said, as quoted by AP.
He went on to state that although the caucus had discussed the financial burden of educating students who require additional English instruction, it never spoke about the idea of reporting those students to the authorities.
“This caught many of us by surprise, because that’s not the direction that we talked about,” he said.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma schools superintendent Joy Hofmeister, also a Republican, called Ritze’s suggestion “utterly shameful.”
“There is no benefit to floating outrageous ideas that seek to punish kids,” she said in a statement.
The idea was also slammed by Republican House Floor Leader John Echols.
“I have no desire to target [English as a second language] students,” Echols said. “That’s a bad idea.”
The head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, Ryan Kiesel, called the suggestion “disgustingly inhumane.”
Others took to Twitter to express their disgust at the proposal, with one user saying a cardiologist was needed “to see if Mr. Ritze has a heart.”
@akcausey Perhaps we should start by having a cardiologist check to see if Mr. Ritze has a heart.
— mike potts (@mikepotts16) May 12, 2017
Another pointed out that although he understands Ritze is seeking a way to help “broke” Oklahoma, it cannot be assumed a child is illegal just because they don’t speak English.
— Chad (@thisaintevenme) May 11, 2017
Another called on Ritze to resign, saying he is “not fit to hold office.”
Mike Ritze should be ashamed and resign immediately. He is not fit to hold office. No worries though, you’ll never win an election ag
— chelscha (@chelscha) May 12, 2017
One person published the phone number to Ritze’s office, in an apparent effort to encourage people to call and complain about the plan.
This is representative Mike Ritze. He wants to turn all of the non-English speaking kids in Oklahoma over to ICE. His offc # is 405-557-7338 pic.twitter.com/JARFrrybzo
— mike G (@thunderchikn) May 11, 2017
Oklahoma is a conservative state with Republican majorities in the House and Senate. However, one of its toughest anti-immigration bills, HB 1804, was signed into law by former Governor Brad Henry, a Democrat, in 2007.
Ritze’s suggestion comes as Oklahoma struggles with an $878 million budget gap for next year. The lawmaker has also suggested other ways to cut spending, including eliminating a film tax credit and transferable tax credits, and to eliminate all non-essential, non-instructional employees in higher education.