TULSA Hispanics believe they have an unfair stereotype

Friday, September 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

America prides itself as the land of opportunity, but how many people should get a shot at the prize? There's much debate over that question, as President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox consider the fate of more than 3-million illegal aliens.

While the debate rages on the national level, we look at how their decision might affect you. The News on Six's Tami Marler says back in 1996, the INS estimated there are 21-thousand illegal immigrants in Oklahoma, that's the last official figure. Should the federal government give them legal status? It's a question drawing heated discussion.

"Americans believe there should be a price for committing a crime. Apparently President Bush doesn't always agree." This national ad calls for "sensible immigration policy." The time clock suggests workers, the text implies criminals. Hispanic leaders say it's an unfair stereotype. Robert Tobias with the Tulsa Hispanic Chamber: "I think what it says to the general public is that there's a group that's out there that is fearful of change." Tulsa's Hispanic population has more than doubled in the last decade, it's estimated one in four are here illegally. "I'm asked that question all the time, 'why are Hispanics coming to Oklahoma?' And once again, the question gets back to doesn't everyone that has a family, don't they want the best for the families?"

Tobias says Oklahoma's economy has a lot to offer eager workers who also have a lot to offer. “Take away Hispanics that are involved in building homes and building roads and building buildings and where would we be? I think Tulsa and Oklahoma's economy would be pretty flat at this point." Groups like this one are concerned about the element of the growth spurt that can't be tracked. It's a growing problem in law enforcement. Paul Lankster of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol says they run across illegal immigrants almost every day. "If they've committed an offense that is subject to a citation, then they get a citation." But how do they find out about the person's past record? "There are a different number of checks that I would run through our communications system that would give me your drivers license and your criminal history. If you didn't have such credentials, there's absolutely no way I could check out your driving history." Or your criminal history. According to a national coalition for immigration reform, in 1999, Oklahomans paid over $2-million in taxes for illegal aliens who were detained in state and local jails and prisons.

With between three and nine million illegal immigrants, the INS has its hands full. All sides agree, something needs to be done. "That's what makes it interesting in what President Bush and Fox are talking about, because that's exactly what they're communicating.” The deal discussed by Presidents Bush and Fox reportedly concerns Mexican immigrants who are gainfully employed. The worker would be allowed "legal status" for as long as he remains employed. Right now, the work permit process can take months, even years.