Tulsa, Okla. – President Obama designated Fort Sill, Okla., as one of the military installations that would house the surge of young illegal immigrants coming to the United States, and the decision could be a factor in the homestretch of another Republican primary, just two weeks after immigration helped sink House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, (R., Va.).
Former House Speaker T.W. Shannon has primarily faulted Representative James Lankford for voting to raise the debt-ceiling, but the recent spate of border crossings by minors has given him another weapon to use against his campaign to replace retiring Senator Tom Coburn.
“[Lankford] said that he supports a pathway to citizenship; he said it for juveniles,” Shannon told National Review Online after talking to patrons of Steak Stuffs, a local sandwich shop. “Well, when you compare the crisis that’s happening five miles from my house in Lawton at Fort Sill with the illegals that have come across our border and are now being housed there, I think part of the reason is is because we’ve sent a message from Washington D.C. is that we welcome illegal immigrants who are children when you talk about a pathway to citizenship. So, I think that’s a distinction between us.”
For his part, Shannon supported a bill that made it a felony for someone to transport illegal immigrants in the state while knowing of their immigration status, according to Vote Smart. The bill also had provisions to discourage businesses from hiring illegal immigrants, among other things. Shannon made the comment after an appearance at the Broken Arrow Rotary Club, where a man took the opportunity to remind an aide to Representative Jim Bridenstine that he opposes amnesty.
“Immigration is definitely an issue [in Tulsa] because we’re sitting at the crossroads of I-35 and I-40,” Jenni White, an activist with ties among conservatives around the state due to her time leading the successful fight to repeal Common Core in the state, explained to NRO. “We have human trafficking here badly [and] drug smuggling and immigrants coming through all the time.”
Lankford criticized Obama when the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s decision to send some of the young illegal immigrants to Fort Sill. “The recent, single-year influx of unaccompanied minors from foreign countries into the United States is a direct result of President Obama’s policies of encouraging amnesty and failing to enforce existing immigration laws,” the congressman said.
Shannon argues that Lankford’s willingness to consider citizenship for young people – ”I separate a 2-year-old who was brought over with a parent from a parent who violated the law,” Lankford said a year ago — also creates the problem.
“Particularly as this deal has heated up in Lawton, people are saying ‘how did we get here? Why has Washington D.C. failed us once again?’” he said. ”And it’s clear that because we have not secured our border, and because we have not reformed our welfare system in Washington D.C., it’s clear that we created an atmosphere that encourages this type of behavior from many governments that are encouraging their citizens to come into our country illegally.”
Although his immigration stance might endear him to the kinds of Tea Party voters who helped Dave Brat defeat Cantor, Shannon also emphasized that he has the support of several recent state Chamber of Commerce presidents because they understand that he was a “pro-business” House speaker.
“Most of us in Oklahoma were Tea Party long before it became cool, and will continue to be. And so, this idea that there are two Republican parties — I reject that notion,” Shannon said. “For me, as a conservative, I don’t think that that means being anti-business, which I think is usually what boils down when you talk about what has been created as kind of this rift between the conservative party, grassroots versus kind of business interests. I don’t accept that. I’ve never been comfortable with the title that you have to be one or the other.”
Brat struck a different note during his campaign. “Big business gets the cheap labor and the American people pay the tab,” he said of current immigration overhauls. The national Chamber of Commerce supports the immigration bill championed by Senator Lindsay Graham and others.
Shannon said there’s no tension between his pro-business views and opposition to amnesty. “Most businesspeople I know still respect the rule of law,” he told NRO. ”I think most people I know still believe that having a secure border is a national security issue. And so, I don’t buy into this idea that we have to somehow disregard the rule of law to keep business happy. That’s not what I hear from the business community.”