In a desperate attempt to address a wide, $900 million budget gap for next year exclusive of increased taxes, a Republican lawmaker suggested something extremely jingoistic.
Oklahoma Representative Mike Ritze expressed his xenophobic sentiments recently in an interview. As other lawmakers suggested downsizing nonessential college employees and dropping a film tax credit could save up to $5 million, Ritze asked the state to turn 82,000 non-English-speaking students over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In simple terms, he wants to save the state money by getting the citizen status checked off students who do not speak English.
The leader of a newly created Oklahoma House Republican caucus believes this would save the state a whopping $60 million.
“Identify them and then turn them over to ICE to see if they truly are citizens, and do we really have to educate noncitizens?” Ritze said.
While making these vague suggestions (read: threatening students), the lawmaker possibly forgot that a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision prohibits states from denying students free public education based on their immigration status.
It also did not occur to him that the United States has no official language.
Without clarifying if he wanted non-English-speaking students’ names to be sent to the federal authorities or to physically hand over the students, Ritze continued giving figures of apparent savings.
However, according to the State Department of Education, around 50,000 English learners are studying in pre-K through 12th grade in Oklahoma public schools, and many of the students could be U.S. citizens.
Ritze’s controversial remarks led many Republicans to distant themselves from him.
Oklahoma schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, a Republican, said Ritze's suggestion was "utterly shameful."
"There is no benefit to floating outrageous ideas that seek to punish kids," Hofmeister said in a statement.
Ryan Kiesel, the head of American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, described the caucus' suggestion as "disgustingly inhumane."
People also took to social media to vent their frustration.
WHYYYYY are there people assuming if you speak another language you are illegal? I CAN'T understand that. #oklaed— Aubree Noelle (@AubreeNoelle2) May 12, 2017
I'm so sick. I'm sick to my stomach over this. Oklahoma, in really just done with you for right now... #oklaed— Aubree Noelle (@AubreeNoelle2) May 12, 2017
Revenue must be put in place to fund core services. Can't cut our way out of this mess. #oklaed— Matt Holder (@mholder1) May 11, 2017
I always tell my students that I'm too smart to fight, but if these legislators come after them, I'm swinging. #oklaed— Katy Caudle (@katycaudle) May 12, 2017