Town Faces Unique Challenge In Implementing Immigration Law


Tuesday, October 16th 2007, 11:22 am
By: News On 6


GUYMON, Okla. (AP) -- The high population of illegal immigrants in Guymon will make enforcing the state's new illegal immigration law particularly challenging, according to authorities in the Panhandle town.

Guymon Police Chief Michael Bab said about half of the town's population are illegal immigrants. Many Hispanic immigrants were drawn to the area when a meat processing plant opened about a decade ago.

Bab said it's been his department's practice that if an illegal immigrant is arrested in Guymon on a statewide felony warrant, the Texas County Sheriff's office would call the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Oklahoma City.

Bab said that sometimes, ICE representatives will travel to Guymon to take custody of the person, but that other times, they don't.

"Under federal law, they can prosecute the coyote, the fellow that brings them here from Mexico," Texas County Sheriff Arnold Peoples said. "But then they are so inundated, they can't do it. So, they tried to switch some of the responsibilities over to the local people, and we already have our plates brimming over.”

"This law is one of those things where it sounds good when you're banging your fist against a desk and say, 'This is what we're doing about it.' But it doesn't fix anything. It just creates a bigger problem."

House Bill 1804 creates barriers for undocumented immigrants to receive public benefits and jobs. It also makes it illegal to transport or harbor illegal immigrants, making violations a felony punishable by a minimum of one year in prison or a $1,000 fine.

A group opposed to the bill, the National Coalition of Latino Clergy, has filed a lawsuit in federal court in Tulsa, seeking to stop the measure from taking effect on November 1.

Bab said Guymon has the highest proportion of illegal immigrants of any Oklahoma city.

"It's not like this is Arizona, where we can just drive them to the border and kick them out," he said.

Peoples said that the federal government has abdicated responsibility on the issue and that local politicians have stepped into the void so they can sound "tough" on illegal immigration. He said that leaves state and local law enforcement agencies in a precarious situation.

Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty said his department is required to enforce the state law, but maintains that it does not have the manpower to enforce federal immigration laws. He said the two might conflict.

M.T. Berry, an assistant city manager for Oklahoma City, said the department's enforcement efforts also depend upon how much desire the Oklahoma County District Attorney's office has to accept charges for transporting or harboring illegal immigrants.

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