Amid charges of racism, "ethnic cleansing" and bigotry against those responsible for the passage of the recently-enacted state level immigration reform law, HB 1804, opponents of the bill have also warned of the damage its implementation will do to the state economy by driving Oklahoma's estimated 100,000 illegal immigrants away, taking their dirt-cheap labor, patronage of local businesses and tax dollars with them.
"We predict that in the longer term, Oklahoma's economy and growth will suffer as a result of this law," said the Rev. Miguel Rivera, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition of Latin Evangelical Clergy and Christian Leaders (a.k.a. "CONLAMIC," an acronym from the Spanish translation of their name).
"There are no facts to back up Rep. Terrill's claims that undocumented immigrants are a burden on the state. Instead, there is much to show that immigrants both legal and undocumented contribute a great deal in tax and revenue," he continued.
Rivera's comments came this past Halloween--the day U.S. District Court Judge James Payne dismissed CONLAMIC's request for a temporary injunction to delay the scheduled Nov. 1 effective date of the new law.
While it's easy to dismiss much of the immigration advocate's over-the-top rhetoric about "ethnic cleansing" and behind-the-scenes anti-Hispanic agendas, when he says "there is much to show that immigrants both legal and undocumented contribute a great deal in tax and revenue," it's only fair to take a look at what he's suggesting.
When UTW contacted him to elaborate on the contributions of undocumented immigrants (since contributions by the legal variety aren't disputed by either side of the debate and so aren't relevant to the discussion), he pointed to the "Riverside, NJ experience" as his case in point.
Last year, Riverside Township passed an ordinance that would have imposed a fine of up to $2,000 for landlords who rented to and businesses that hired illegal immigrants.
That is, until it was repealed in September 2007 amid legal challenges by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The repealing ordinance cited the prohibitive legal costs of defending the law against the ACLU lawsuit.
The law never took effect because of delays caused by the legal challenge, but city leaders estimated that, by the time it was repealed, as many as 1,500 illegal immigrants had left the city of about 8,000 people.
"That city is a ghost town. It's going through a real financial struggle," Rivera said.
"The white supremacist legislators did not take this into consideration when they passed the law," he said of HB 1804.
Of course, Oklahoma's demographics and population defy easy comparison with the scenario in Riverside Township, so Rivera was asked if he had any numbers to indicate what ill effects HB 1804 might have on the state economy and budget.
He pointed to October's figures for state revenue in Oklahoma, which was 6.4 percent below collections at the same time last year, and 3.4 percent below projected estimates for the year.
Rivera blamed the downturn on illegal immigrants leaving the state in anticipation of HB 1804's enactment.
At the time the numbers were announced, State Treasurer Scott Meacham said it's far too early for the downturn to be considered a trend, and that "timing and seasonality factors" were to blame for the low numbers, and that state revenue for the fiscal year are 3.8 percent above last year's at the same time.
He made no mention of any connection between the downturn and HB 1804.
However, since they are undocumented, there is no way for the state to track how much revenue is contributed by illegal immigrants compared to legal citizens and residents, according to representatives of the Oklahoma Tax Commission.
They also said it's too early to be able to determine the effects of HB 1804 on the state economy and budget.
"Whatever spin the offices of the Oklahoma Tax Commission want to give, that's their prerogative, but the fact is, revenues are down," said Rivera.
Rivera himself was unable to provide any statistical data to quantify the contributions made by illegal immigrants.
"I really don't have those facts in front me, accept for the comments made to me by people in Oklahoma," he said.
Apart from emotionally-charged rhetoric and anecdotal evidence, Rivera was unable to provide any objective data to support his assertion of the economic damage HB 1804 would cause the state of Oklahoma.
The League of United Latin American Citizens' national executive director Brent Wilkes did, though.
At least, he offered data to indicate what might happen in Oklahoma.
Wilkes pointed to a report by Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn--"Undocumented Immigrants in Texas: A Financial Analysis of the Impact to the State Budget and Economy"--issued December 2006.
Drawing on U.S. Census data, U.S. Department of Health data, studies by the Pew Hispanic Research Center and other sources, Strayhorn reported that the estimated 1.4 million illegal immigrants in Texas during fiscal year 2005 contributed $17.7 billion to the gross state product and $1.58 billion in state revenues.
Meanwhile, they cost Texas $1.16 billion in state services, and local municipal governments bore $1.44 billion in uncompensated health care costs and law enforcement costs.
The net benefit to Texas from illegal immigrants in 2005 amounted to $16.68 billion, according to the report.
"It would be one thing if they were draining state coffers, but they're paying their way," said Wilkes, pointing to Texas' report as indicative of trends across the nation.
However, Texas' trend apparently conflicts with figures offered by state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, in support of his HB 1804.
Citing figures provided by Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR) special projects director Jack Martin for a House interim study conducted last summer and fall, the lawmaker said, in 2005, Oklahoma's then-estimated illegal immigrant population directly cost the state $207 million in public education, emergency medical costs and corrections, and "an indirect cost of two or three times that."
At the hearing in which Martin presented his figures, he emphasized that they were estimates, based on estimates from U.S. Census data.
Terrill said that $207 million figure does not account for the additional construction costs for schools necessitated by the growing number of children of illegal immigrants, nor the rising costs of insurance premiums resulting from uninsured, unlicensed drivers who are in the country illegally.
As Terrill's interim study was underway, the Senate's all-Democrat Task Force on Oklahoma Illegal Immigration Issues was conducting its own inquiry.
Tony Mastin, then-director of tax policy and research for the Oklahoma Tax Commission, told lawmakers that individual tax IDs are issued regardless of whether a person is a legal U.S. resident, and OTC received about 7,000 tax returns filed with the ID rather than a Social Security number in 2005.
Collections from those returns amounted to about $12.7 million, he said.
Also, he estimated that sales tax generated by those with taxpayer IDs, along with their dependents, was about $9.1 million.
However, Mastin did not venture an estimate for how many of those non-citizen taxpayers were in the country illegally.
Assuming, for the sake of argument, that all were undocumented, and assuming the numbers provided by FAIR were somewhat accurate, there was a net direct cost to Oklahoma in 2005 from illegal immigrants of about $176.2 million.
Using the same methodology by which the group arrived at its Oklahoma figures, FAIR also issued a report in 2005 entitled "The Cost of Illegal Immigration to Texans."
According to that report, Texas's illegal immigration population cost the state more than $4.7 billion per year in services, with a net outlay of $3.7 billion per year when tax revenue is subtracted.
Strayhorn accounted for the differences between her report and theirs by noting that FAIR included the education costs of the legal children of illegal parents.
"The inclusion of these children dramatically increased the costs reported. The Comptroller's report focuses its attention on the costs directly attributed to undocumented persons," she wrote (emphasis added).
Also, Strayhorn pointed out that the higher tax revenue contributed in Texas by illegal immigrants, compared to their counterparts in states like Oklahoma, is due to differences in tax structure--namely, Texas' lack of income tax and heavy reliance on state and local consumption taxes.
"Texas is more likely to capture tax revenue from workers who do not report income. Whereas income taxes will miss much activity in an underground economy, a sales tax will more likely be collected no matter how one earns an income," she reported.
As CONLAMIC and other plaintiffs' lawsuit is pending against the state of Oklahoma for the allegedly unconstitutional provisions of HB 1804, Rivera estimates that between 25,000 and 30,000 illegal immigrants have already left Tulsa for greener pastures, and the rest are sure to follow if the new law is not repealed.
Wilkes, though, takes a more sedate view.
"It's dubious that they'll all leave," he said.
"Their lives will be more difficult, probably, but when you think about the fact that they couldn't make a living in Mexico and they risked their lives to get here, probably not even a quarter of the population will leave," Wilkes added.
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