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.

Related Stories:

3/5/2007 Green Country Hispanics Fight New Immigration Bill

4/3/2007 Controversial Immigration Bill Closer To Becoming Law

4/16/2007 State Senate Approves Sweeping Immigration Legislation

4/19/2007 Hispanics Speak Out Against Immigration Legislation

5/1/2007 State House Sends Immigration Reform Bill To The Governor

5/1/2007 Hispanic Leaders Say State Immigration Bill Will Not Work

5/2/2007 Governor Henry Still Undecided On Immigration Reform Bill

5/8/2007 Governor Signs Sweeping Immigration Reform Bill

5/8/2007 Controversial Immigration Bill Signed Into Law

5/9/2007 Local Business Could See A Boost Thanks To A New Immigration Law

5/9/2007 Immigration Law Creates New Rules For Oklahoma Employers

5/22/2007 Tulsa City Council Mulls Immigration Plan

5/24/2007 Still No Decision In Tulsa Immigration Plan

5/25/2007 City Council Passes New Immigration Ordinance

5/31/2007 Key Officials Meet To Discuss The City's Immigration Policy

6/2/2007 Debate Continues On Immigration Reform

6/2/2007 Tackling The Immigration Issue

6/19/2007 State Chamber Critical Of New Law

7/31/2007 Group Sets Up Fund To Fight Immigration Law

8/1/2007 Group Uses Billboards To Protest Immigration Legislation

8/22/2007 Immigration Bill Fears Not Affecting Attendance Of Hispanic Students

8/29/2007 - Home Builders Say Immigration Reform Could Cause Delays

9/25/2007 Panel Questions Constitutionality Of Immigration Law

9/26/2007 Religious Leader Calls Immigration Forum

9/28/2007 Hispanic Leaders Announce Lawsuit

9/30/2007 Forum On Immigration Reform Held

10/15/2007 Challenge Filed To House Bill 1804