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Oklahoma County Sheriff Tommie Johnson vows to enforce new immigration law

Oklahoma County Sheriff Tommie Johnson listens to a question from an Oklahoma City Resident during a public forum on enforcement of House Bill 4156, June 3, 2024, at Crossroads Church in south Oklahoma City.
Lionel Ramos
/
KOSU
Oklahoma County Sheriff Tommie Johnson listens to a question from an Oklahoma City Resident during a public forum on enforcement of House Bill 4156, June 3, 2024, at Crossroads Church in south Oklahoma City.

About 40 people gathered at Crossroads Church in south Oklahoma City to learn how their sheriff plans to enforce a new immigration law that will take effect next month — assuming it withstands being blocked in federal courts.

Oklahoma County Sheriff Tommie Johnson said at a public forum hosted at the Church by local nonprofit Buidling Bridges USA that his deputies will not be seeking to arrest individuals solely for committing Oklahoma’s new immigration crime known as impermissible occupation.

“We're going to enforce the law, and while enforcing the law, and during an investigation process, once a crime has been committed, if it has been deemed and observed that this person who committed the crime is an illegal immigrant then we will take action,” Johnson said.

But that’s nothing new, he said during an interview after he read the law, known as House Bill 4156, to the crowd.

“We were always doing that,” he said, explaining his office, and other local law enforcement agencies across the state, already work with their federal counterparts to identify people in the country illegally and deport them, if they meet certain requirements.

What’s new is jailing people locally for breaking a state crime based on a federal law. That’s not happening, but Oklahomans can expect it starting next month, as the new law takes effect July 1.

Two federal lawsuits may stop the bill before that happens, but some community organizers, like Francis “Pancho” Hobbes and his wife Lera, said it’s necessary to inform the community about how law enforcement is tackling the new crime.

Their nonprofit, Building Bridges USA, leverages the couple’s history of ministry to connect new immigrants to the Oklahoma City community. That happens, mostly, through connecting with them on the basis of faith at local churches like Crossroads.

“We want to help people who are new people who are just getting started in this country with their families to get to understand, well, how does America work?”

Hobbes said during his opening of the event.

Sheriff Johnson wasn’t the only speaker at the event. Also in attendance with a message from Oklahoma’s Republican U.S. Senator James Lankford, was his field representative, Estela Hernandez.

She said it’s important to work towards finding solutions that benefit everyone, while knowing that not all will be pleased. She also claimed security at the southern border and in the heartland is paramount to stifle terrorism.

“Enemies that are fighting in the Middle East: ISIS, Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen, they are now special interest aliens coming through the southern border seeking to do harm,” Hernandez said. “And we don't know who they are.”

Aaron Brilbeck, an Oklahoma County Sheriff public information officer, elaborated on Hernandez’s point after she spoke. He said people crossing the border illegally and never being identified create the conditions for unexpected potential danger.

“We’ve got millions of people in our country, many of them are good, kind, hardworking people,” Brilbeck said, “Many of them are terrorists who want to do us harm. How do you know the difference?”


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Lionel Ramos covers state government at KOSU. He joined the station in January 2024.
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