Hispanics feeling heat of enforcement
By Devona Walker
Thu December 20, 2007
Regardless of citizenship status, Hispanics say they are being hurt by the ongoing immigration debate. In contrast, a recent study by the Congressional Budget Office reports that local and state governments are uniformly incurring costs due to the presence of undocumented immigrants.
The Pew Hispanic Center, a nonprofit national research group, reports that more than half of Hispanics recently surveyed fear they, their family or close friends might be deported. About two-thirds say Congress' failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform has made their lives more difficult. They reported increased difficulties in finding housing and work and less access to public services, increased fears over traveling abroad, and a higher likelihood of being asked to produce documents to prove their immigration status.
“A number of our analyses do include citizens and noncitizens. There has been some kind of spillover to citizens. They are feeling some of the same negative effects from the recent changes, said the report's co-author, Gretchen Livingston, who is a research associate at Pew.
Some feelings might be related to the experiences of family members who are illegal immigrants, but they might also be a byproduct of perceived discrimination and increased scrutiny about their own individual status, Livingston said.
“What is clear is that it is affecting Hispanics regardless of their immigration status, she added.
For non-Hispanics, about 45 percent approve of local law enforcement taking an active role in immigration enforcement. About 51 percent of non-Hispanics approve of increased worksite enforcement. By the largest margin of all, some 85 percent of non-Hispanics approve of checking immigration status when applying for a driver's license.
Congress tried twice unsuccessfully to pass immigration reform. Subsequent to those failures there has been increased activity by federal, state and local governments. Numerous states including Oklahoma have pushed for statewide immigration enforcement statutes.
What's the fiscal burden?
The Congressional Budget Office recently studied the fiscal impact of unauthorized immigrants on state and local governments. It found tax revenues generated from unauthorized residents do not offset the cost of services. Nor does the federal government adequately reimburse local governments for those additional costs.
It also reports that constitutionally many states have difficulty avoiding those costs. In most states unauthorized immigrants cost states less than 5 percent of the cost to provide citizens those same services. In terms of fiscal deficits, the largest tax burden has been in education, health care and police and fire services.
“We, in the public debate, have ignored those costs for too long, said Carol Swain, a Vanderbilt University Law professor and author. Swain said illegal immigrants strain low-income workers and criticized their advocates for demonizing dissent. Beyond the highly politicized debate, she says people are paying the price.
In 2004, the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-illegal immigration think tank, estimated that the net national impact of illegal immigration to be about $10 billion, roughly 0.09 percent of the annual budget at the time a relatively low number.
What concerns Swain , as well as other critics of illegal immigration is that the benefits of illegal immigration are enjoyed by one group, primarily the businesses that employ them and consumers that use their services. However, the costs are endured by other groups low-income workers who compete for those jobs and taxpayers.
“It's not costless to the nation. It's not simply a win-win, like immigration advocates would like to portray it, Swain said.
The worst hit is native citizens, then law-abiding immigrants, she said.
“Those seeking to come to this country legally but cannot because all the attention is focused on one group, Swain said. “What about the immigrants that are here legally and waiting for green cards and cannot (get them) because the system is clogged up with illegal immigration?
Poverty does not justify the contradictions, she said.
How things changed here
More than 10 million undocumented immigrants have been added to our population since the 1990s.
That number includes a Tulsa landscaper who moved to the state five years ago for work. He came with a visa, but it expired. He chose not to return to Mexico.
In the last four months, he has watched relatives leave including a brother who left for Texas and a cousin who moved to Kansas. He has stopped driving, fearing police will deport him during a traffic stop. Now, his life consists of only work. Even there, he says, he is afraid.
“I'm very scared of the law, he said. “… I have no family here anymore; so many friends are leaving the state because they are afraid. I think they look for Hispanic people.
“They look at our faces, and they try to see if we are Hispanic, and they are stopping us because of that, he added.
Also in Tulsa is Antonio Perez, a well-established Hispanic businessman. He owns four grocery stores, and is seeing a significant downturn in business due to House Bill 1804. He says there has been a 30 percent decline in sales, and he is having difficulties keeping workers.
“I'm very worried about the economic impact of HB 1804, he said. “It's only been a month, and it's already hurting us.
By the Numbers
?00,000: Number deported in 2007
84 percent: Rise in deportations over 2002
?00 percent: Rise in workplace raids between 2002 and 2007.
? to 8 million: Estimated number of undocumented workers in the U.S.
?,562: Number of immigration bills introduced around the country as of last month.
?44: Number of those bills that were enacted.
?1.6 billion: Budget in 2002 for patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border.
?9 billion: Estimated cost of building a fence along the southwest corridor of the U.S.
?1,700: Cost per arrest along the border, as of 2002.
?80,000 to 660,000: Estimated number of illegal immigrants settling in the U.S. between 1990 and 2004.
Sources: Pew Hispanic Center, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Immigration Forum.
More changes in Oklahoma
While immigration continues to poll as a priority for many Oklahoma voters, the state's current immigration law, House Bill 1804, may change during the upcoming legislative season.
Sen. Harry Coates, R-Seminole, has vowed to introduce legislation to repeal portions of HB 1804. Rep. Shane Jett, R-Tecumseh, plans to introduce a companion bill for a program similar to a statewide temporary worker program, softening the blow of the enforcement-heavy HB 1804.
On the other side, Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, plans to introduce what he calls the “Son of HB 1804 to strengthen immigration enforcement.
Coates says HB 1804 hampers economic growth and is causing a mass exodus of legal workers.
“The Hispanic family unit is such that they are not going to turn away a family member. Rather than subject themselves to the problems this immigration legislation has caused, they are pulling up stakes, Coates said. “We are seeing a mass exodus of not just illegal immigrants but those that are fully documented.
Oklahoma is home to thousands of families where one or two members are documented while other members of that same family are not.
“Since we are at full employment in Oklahoma, even when you lose a small number of workers, those jobs can't be filled. So companies are scaling back, Coates said. “Our gross products are going to be affected, just because we do not have an adequate labor force.
This stress has already begun to percolate into the retail and service sectors, said Guillermo Rojas, a Tulsa restaurateur.
“They don't go to buy cars. They are returning the cars. It's hurting the dealership, the salesman, and the restaurants. They don't sell the car, and then they don't come to spend money at the restaurant, Rojas said. “The reality is, this is not only affecting illegal residents.