OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Kevin Stitt plans to join 10 of his GOP counterparts at the Mexican border Wednesday.
One state lawmaker dubbed it “a publicity stunt,” but a spokesperson for Stitt said Oklahoma has been adversely affected by illegal immigration.
Stitt plans to travel to the border town of Mission, Texas, along with governors of Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wyoming. He will get a briefing from the Texas Department of Public Safety and tour the border, his office said Monday.
Charlie Hannema, a spokesman for Stitt, said Oklahomans are being directly impacted by the border crisis, which “warrants a day trip for the governor to visit the situation on the ground.”
Federal officials, including President Joe Biden, have faced growing outrage, particularly from Republicans, over how they’ve handled an influx of illegal immigration along the nation’s southern border. Democrats, who control Congress and the White House, are also facing criticism for failing to overhaul the immigration system and stem the flow of illegal immigrants.
Hannema cited a state report that shows one of the major threats to Oklahoma from illegal immigration is an increase in drug trafficking. Oklahoma’s interstate system and strategic location in the middle of the county make it the “perfect” hub for drug trafficking organizations, he said. In May, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs seized 60 pounds of methamphetamine in Oklahoma City. The distributor, Hannema said, had direct ties to Mexico.
“The increase in illegal border crossings has resulted in a noticeable increase of (drug trafficking organizations) in Oklahoma,” he said.
Hannema said another concern is the human trafficking associated with illegal border crossings. He said officials have seen a nearly 23% increase in reported tips per month this year.
“It’s important to note that this is a national security issue, not an immigration issue,” Hannema said. “President Biden has failed Americans by directing the federal government to not enforce federal law, and Gov. Stitt cannot condone or support that behavior.”
He said there are also reports that migrants are being transported to other states, and Stitt has a “right to know if unvetted immigrants are being snuck into Oklahoma.”
“The governor looks forward to a firsthand briefing on the situation and exploring opportunities to protect Oklahomans if President Biden continues to ignore the crisis his administration created,” Hannema said.
However, state Rep. Jose Cruz, a Democrat who represents a largely Hispanic district in south Oklahoma City, said immigration is a complex issue. A Stitt visit with other GOP governors is not going to solve any issues, he said, likening Stitt’s visit to a “publicity stunt” to bolster his re-election campaign next year. He said Stitt is just one of a parade of governors who have traveled to the border for what amounted to little more than a photo opportunity.
“Oklahomans will be disappointed to know that he is using our taxpayer dollars to get a picture at the border,” Cruz said. “This particular trip is no more than political theater so he can get photos for his mailers.”
Cruz said there are more pressing issues for Oklahomans, including health care, education, and COVID-19.
He said his constituents will be disappointed to learn that Stitt is spending taxpayer money to go to the border even as Cruz’s legislative district continues to struggle with some of the lowest health and education outcomes in the state.
“Our state resources could be better spent in south Oklahoma City,” Cruz said.
Cruz, however, said he welcomes Stitt’s planned diplomatic trip to Mexico next month. He said that could have a direct impact on the lives of Oklahomans. He said Stitt plans to lobby Mexican officials to move the Mexican consulate from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Oklahoma City. He said that move would make it easier for Oklahomans to access to consulate.
He said he would gladly join Stitt on that trip if invited.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.