Judy Gibbs Robinson and Carmel Perez Snyder, The Oklahoman, Mar. 12
Hispanic leaders expressed outrage Thursday that a state representative, speaking during debate on a bill, said he thinks there are too many Mexicans in Oklahoma. (PDF)
Rep. Bill Graves, R-Oklahoma City, at first denied making the comment, but a tape recording of Tuesday’s House session captured his words.
“We do have a lot of Mexicans and Hispanics that want to come here and live, and frankly, I think we’re getting too many,” he said Wednesday while debating against a bill to establish a state Latino Affairs Commission. The bill failed, 40-53, but was held over for reconsideration.
Asked later Wednesday about the remark, Graves denied saying it.
“No. I didn’t say that. I wouldn’t have said it,” Graves said. “I probably said there are too many illegal aliens in this state — just like there are all over the country.”
Rep. Al Lindley, D-Oklahoma City, who sponsored the bill being debated, said he heard it clearly, but couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“When I heard that, I just turned to my seat mate and said, ‘Tell me he didn’t say that.’ I was shocked, dismayed and disheartened. I really felt angry,” Lindley said.
So did Juanita Salazar Lamb, a member of the Governor’s Council on Latin American/Hispanic Affairs. She gasped upon hearing the quote, then said: “Tell him he ain’t seen nothing yet. That’s my heartfelt response. And to put it more eloquently, what is too many? Is it too many people who speak more than one language? Is it too many people who work hard to earn a living and have a piece of the American dream? Some of us came here just to study, so is it too many students? I’d say we have too many Graveses.”
Graves insisted Thursday that what he meant to say was illegal immigrants.
Graves said the growing number of immigrants in the United States indicates the country needs a “cooling off period,” in which immigration would be limited.
“Obviously we had to have people from foreign countries settle this land,” Graves said. “Of course that’s changed, and people ought to assimilate our culture, learn our language, and that will help them get along better here.”
That explanation would not appease Leo Mendoza, assistant director of Esperanza del Pueblo, a Hispanic community services group.
“People think Hispanic or Latino and they automatically think illegal. Why? We’re talking about citizens, professionals, business owners and veterans like myself,” Mendoza said.
Ed Romo, the new president of Oklahoma City’s chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a civil rights group, demanded a public apology from Graves.