Oklahoma Law Blamed for Hispanic Exodus

AP, January 25, 2008

Edgar Castorena had diarrhea for 10 days and counting, and the illegal immigrant parents of the 2-month-old did not know what to do about it.

They were afraid they would be deported under a new Oklahoma law if they took him to a major hospital. By the time they took him to a clinic, it was too late.

A ruptured intestine that might have been treatable instead killed the U.S.-born infant, making him a poster child for opponents of a bill months before it was enacted as the Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2007.

The law, billed by its backers as the toughest U.S. legislation against illegal immigration, took effect Nov. 1. It bars illegal immigrants from obtaining jobs or state assistance and makes it a felony to harbor or transport illegal immigrants.

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While it is difficult to characterize which U.S. state has the toughest immigration-related law, Oklahoma’s goes beyond most because it includes the clause about harboring and transporting illegal immigrants, said Ann Morse, program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Immigrant Policy Project.

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The crackdown and its consequences

The crackdown has caused Hispanics to leave for neighboring states, with as many as 25,000 leaving northeastern Oklahoma alone, according to the Greater Tulsa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

The law’s fallout also can be seen in struggling businesses, worker shortages and widespread fear among immigrants who say they are afraid to drive to church or the market because police might pick them up.

“I feel like I’m in some kind of Nazi country where if they see your color, you’ll be stopped,” said Maria Sanchez, a 22-year-old student who is looking to leave Oklahoma rather than risk waiting the seven years it will take to get her papers. “I can’t work, I can’t study, I can’t go out, there’s no point of me staying here.”

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Defending Oklahoma’s act

Supporters—described by Dan Howard, the founder of an anti-illegal immigration Web site, as “good, American, God-fearing people of the heartland that bleed red, white and blue”—say the law is necessary because of Washington’s bungled immigration policy. They also believe the law has helped deter crime and punishes the companies that make money on the backs of illegal labor.

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Terrill [Rep. Randy Terrill, author of the bill] said there is no correlation between his bill and Edgar’s death, noting that the child died in July, months before the law took effect, and that the law provides an exception for emergency medical care.

“To the extent that these illegal alien parents deprived their own child needed and necessary medical care because of their ignorance of the law, then they should be in prison, frankly,” Terrill said.

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Leaving Oklahoma all together

Even workers with proper paperwork are leaving for jobs in neighboring states rather than split up their families.

“My guy who runs my framing crew, he had 70 workers, and as of Nov. 1, he lost 35 of them,” said Caleb McCaleb, who runs a homebuilding company in Edmond. “My painter has lost 30 percent of his work force, my landscaper has lost 25 percent of his work force.”

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