My first thought: Sure, you can get them to leave Oklahoma! All that shows is that many immigrants possess intelligence, forethought, and good common sense. (I was surprised more of you in last week's sidebar poll didn't support my idea of a wall along the Red River.)
But instead of some mass awakening among Mexican emigres, (How do you say, "Oh my God, I moved from beautiful Mexico to dreary Oklahoma, on purpose - I'm a moron!" in Spanish?), the short-term migration resulted from a new statute, along with a similar one in Arizona. Reports the Chronicle:
few numbers are available because illegal residents are difficult to track, community activists say immigrants have arrived in Houston and Dallas in recent months, and they expect hundreds more families to relocate to the Bayou City soon.So what's been the result? Is everyone headed back to Mexico? Don't bet on it.
''They're really tightening the screws," said Mario Ortiz, an undocumented Mexican worker who came to Houston after leaving Phoenix last year. ''There have been a lot coming — it could be 100 a day."
The growing exodus is the result of dozens of new state and local laws aimed at curbing illegal immigration. The two toughest measures are in Oklahoma and Arizona.
The Oklahoma statute, which took effect in November, makes it a crime to transport, harbor or hire illegal immigrants. Effective Jan. 1, the Arizona law suspends the business license of employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. On a second offense, the license is revoked.
So this is just squeezing the balloon, but not helping solve the national immigration problem in the least. In fact, it makes it harder to solve by driving immigrants further underground.
As the implications of laws in other states play out, Hubbard, the Mexican consul from Dallas, doubts many immigrants will go back to Mexico.
'I think they will relocate. They will at least give it one more try," Hubbard said. ''It's very difficult to cross the border, and expensive, too."
This is short-sighted NIMBYism at the statewide level. From an economic perspective, these states are cutting off their own nose to spite their face:
In Oklahoma, one builder estimated that 30 percent of the Hispanic work force left Tulsa. Reports out of Arizona indicate that several restaurants have closed in Phoenix because of a shortage of workers, and vacancies at apartment complexes are increasing, in part because of departing immigrants. ...So, companies closing, worker shortages, shuttered restaurants, a declining tax base, crippling the construction trades just as a recession looms: Those Okies are a brilliant bunch, aren't they? Hmmmm, yeah, give us some of that! (/sarcasm).
The flight from Oklahoma began the month before the new law known as House Bill 1804 took effect, business leaders in Oklahoma say. In Tulsa, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has estimated that 15,000 to 25,000 illegal immigrants have left the area.
''Thirty percent of our Hispanic labor force left Tulsa — it was a huge hit, and it was almost overnight," said Greg Simmons, owner of Simmons Homes, Tulsa's largest home builder.
Based on his conversations with subcontractors, Simmons said they went to Texas and Kansas or returned to Mexico.
Jose Alfonso, pastor of the Cornerstone Hispanic Church in Tulsa, said 15 percent of the congregation's 425 members have left for Texas or California.
''It's been a very difficult situation for our church and the Hispanic community," said Alfonso, whose church is one of several who are challenging the law in federal court.
Business leaders say local police in Tulsa have mounted a campaign to target immigrants and have deported many after they were arrested for minor traffic offenses.
''I think we swung the pendulum too far; we're hurting people, the immigrant families, and we're going to hurt the economy," said Mike Means, executive vice president of the Oklahoma State Homebuilders Association, which has 3,600 members across the state. ...
''There's been a tremendous impact in Oklahoma City," Castillo said. "We've had several companies close shop and leave the state. Banks have called us and say they're closing 30 accounts per week."
Though it sounds like a lot of people, in the scheme of things 15-25,000 people is a drop in the bucket compared to an estimated 1.6 million illegal immigrants in Texas statewide.
You notice the migration took place largely prior to the law's enforcement, not as a result of it. For those who stayed behind, and there are still plenty of undocumented Mexicans in Oklahoma and Arizona, it remains to be seen how and how often these statutes will really be enforced. Once Oklahoma and Arizona's laws have been in place for a while, and those who stayed figure out how to work around them, I bet these short-term migrations will even out.
Bottom line: It's way too early to say these laws "work." In fact, initial press coverage amounts to a list of resulting harms. No one quoted in the article thought they benefited from what happened. I'd love to hear somebody make the case that there has been any positive result.
Cui bono? Who benefits?
BLOGVERSATION: At Okiedoke, Mike takes umbrage at my depiction of Okiedom, declaring that the main benefit of the new law may be pissing off Texans. I replied in the comments.
UPDATE: See the lawsuit filed against the new law (pdf) by the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce, one more bit of evidence that it's difficult to be both anti-immigrant and pro-business.