Illegal immigrants living in states and cities that have adopted strict immigration policies are packing up and moving back to their home countries or to neighboring states.
The exodus has been fueled by a wave of laws targeting illegal immigrants in Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia and elsewhere. Many were passed after congressional efforts to overhaul the immigration system collapsed in June.
Immigrants say the laws have raised fears of workplace raids and deportation.
“People now are really frightened and scared because they don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Juliana Stout, an editor at the newspaper El Nacional de Oklahoma. “They’re selling houses. They’re leaving the country.”
Supporters of the laws cheer the departure of illegal immigrants and say the laws are working as intended.
In Tulsa, schools have seen a drop in Hispanic enrollment.
Illegal immigrants also are leaving Georgia, where a law requires companies on government contracts with at least 500 employees to check new hires against a federal database to make sure they are legally authorized to work.
Real estate agent Guadalupe Sosa in Avondale, Ariz., outside Phoenix, says migration from the state began about three months ago, shortly after Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, signed a law that will take effect in January. Employers who hire illegal immigrants can lose their business licenses.
Of the 10 homes Sosa has on the market, half belong to families that plan to leave because of immigration tensions.
“They know they might be losing everything today or tomorrow,” she says.
Colorado has approved several immigration measures. One gives employers 20 days to check and photocopy documents such as driver’s licenses and Social Security cards, which new workers present to prove their legal status.
State Sen. Dave Schultheis says he hasn’t observed a major migration out of Colorado but has heard anecdotal reports that illegal immigrants are leaving. “It’s absolutely a good thing,” he says. “We want to make Colorado the least friendly state to people who are here illegally.”
In Hazleton, Pa., families started moving away after the city passed an illegal-immigrant law last summer, says Rudy Espinal, head of the Hazleton Hispanic Business Association. The law would fine landlords who rented to illegal immigrants and suspend the business licenses of companies that hired them. A companion measure would require tenants to register with the city and pay $10 for a rental permit.
A federal judge ruled the measures unconstitutional in July, but that hasn’t stopped people moving away, he says.
“People are still leaving,” Espinal says. “Some people have told me that they’re leaving because they don’t want their kids to grow up in an environment like this.”
Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta counters that some illegal immigrants who moved came back after the judge’s decision, which the city is appealing. “I see a reversal,” he says. “In a small city, it becomes obvious. . . . Schools are overcrowded and there are five-hour waits in the emergency room.”