Latinos React To Immigration Law Ruling

Wednesday, October 31st 2007, 5:52 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A new state immigration law that targets illegal immigrants has created fear and panic in Latino communities across Oklahoma and will force many immigrants -- both documented and undocumented – to leave their jobs and homes, Latino groups said Wednesday.

Latinos and their supporters reacted to the law on the eve of its Thursday effective date after a federal judge in Tulsa took under advisement a request to block its enforcement.

In a two-page ruling, U.S. District Judge James H. Payne wrote that the plaintiffs had failed to introduce enough evidence to meet the burden of proof required for a preliminary injunction to be issued.

"In light of plaintiffs' failure to introduce evidence in support of their motion ... the court cannot conclude that the plaintiffs' right to a preliminary injunction has been clearly and unequivocally established," Payne wrote.

The statute -- which received bipartisan support from state lawmakers who expressed frustration with Congress' inability to pass comprehensive immigration reform – has created anxiety in Latino communities, said Pat Fennel, director of the Latino Community Development Agency in Oklahoma City.

"So many Latinos have already left Oklahoma and many plan to do so, which is precisely what Randy Terrill wanted -- cleanse the state," Fennel said.

She predicted the statute will have dire economic consequences for Oklahoma businesses who rely on immigrant labor. Among other things, it imposes new requirements on employers to verify the immigration status and employment eligibility of their workers and penalizes those who willfully hire illegal immigrants.

"There are segments of the economy that are really feeling the impact. Those people who are here are fearful, distressed, going underground," Fennel said.

"There's going to be employment gaps and employers are going to suffer," said Rey Madrid of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a Washington-based group that is the oldest and largest Latino civil rights organization in the United States.

"A lot of them are not going to leave, they're going to go underground," Madrid said.

The measure also eliminates an illegal immigrant's ability to obtain public benefits and gives state and local law enforcement the ability to enforce immigration law, including detaining illegals until they are deported.

Reverend Eusebius J. Beltran, Catholic Archbishop of Oklahoma City, and other clergy and church parishioners have pledged to defy the law and continue offering services to the needy regardless of their immigration status.

"We're going forward with the same services tomorrow that we offered today," said Richard Klinge, director of advocacy and legal services for Catholic Charities.

But Fennel said Hispanic parents are pulling their school age children out of public school classrooms and Hispanic children and adults -- including those in the country legally -- are staying away from public health care clinics in their communities.

"This is not just something that has the undocumented fearful," she said. "This is really creating an adversarial environment for Latinos. Some time in the future, we're going to look back in shame. And even more shame that Oklahoma was the leader."

Madrid, LULAC's representative in Oklahoma, said he plans to visit schools in Latino areas and speak to Latino youth groups in an effort to prevent them from reacting violently when the law goes into effect.

"They figure they're punishing us and they're targeting us," Madrid said. "I see a lot of young people with no hope of going to college, no hope of getting a good job. They get angry."

To learn more about House Bill 1804, click here.