Immigration dominated the 2016 presidential election, with promises from President-elect Donald Trump to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and a clampdown on undocumented migrants from both Latin America and the Middle East.
Mass deportations could have a significant affect on Oklahoma City’s economy, especially south Oklahoma City, where there’s a significant Hispanic population.
On Sunday, President-elect Trump told CBS News’ Lesley Stahl he planned to deport as many as 2-3 million people. Within the context of the 60 Minutes interview, he was talking about people he described as gang members and drug dealers, but then he elaborated.
“After the border is secured and after everything gets normalized, we’re going to make a determination on the people that you’re talking about who are terrific people, they’re terrific people but we are going to make a determination at that-- But before we make that determination-- Lesley, it’s very important, we want to secure our border,” Trump said.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates there are as many as 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
“While Trump said in that interview his intention was to deport criminals, there's still a lot of ambiguity around that, because anybody who is in the country without proper documentation may be guilty of some kind of crime,” said The Journal Record’s editor Ted Streuli. “So there's a lot of speculation about what's likely to happen.”
Raul Font, the president of the Latino Community Development Agency, told The Journal Record’s Brian Brus many residents in south Oklahoma City aren’t necessarily worried about their own legal status, but that of family members:
“We have entire families considering moving out of the country now, or at least relocating to other cities, because they don’t know what’s going to happen if even one of them is forced to leave,” Font said. “They don’t want to leave behind their businesses or homes, and they don’t want to leave behind their families. These people are freaking out.”
But even if there are sweeping changes to the country’s immigration stance, the actual enforcement will be largely left up to states, municipalities, and jurisdiction at the local level. Oklahoma City University economist Russell Evans says there is a precedent for how that might play out in this state:
“What we found with House Bill 1804 was that there was a swift and immediate reaction,” Evans said, citing a 2007 House bill that made it a felony to even give a ride to someone suspected of being an illegal immigrant. “But that was quickly undone once it became clear that state and local law enforcement were not going to strictly enforce prohibitions.”
The same stalemate is likely to arise elsewhere in the country. For example, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announced this week that he has no plans to change his department’s stance on immigration enforcement, nor will he work in conjunction with Homeland Security on deportation.
Regardless, Evans said, even allowing for all the jobs that immigrants fill, broken families mean fewer productive workers overall and anxiety will further dampen economic activity.
A 2012 survey of business owners in Oklahoma City shows more than 7,000 companies are Hispanic-owned, and produce about $1.5 billion in sales and $159 million in payroll.
“Michael Brooks-Jimenez is an Oklahoma City attorney who handles a lot of deportation cases in federal court. And he told us that there are so many people that are frightened and just don't know what's going to happen next, that that's the biggest problem right now, is this anxiety and unknowing,” Streuli said. “They've got a lot of questions, and no answers.”
The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.
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