Tulsa's growing Hispanic community voiced loud opposition to a recently proposed ordinance addressing illegal immigrants, saying it would target the entire Hispanic community.
"We're definitely getting the local response because it is at a city level," said Marvin Lizama, president of the Coalition for the American Dream, an organization that serves to advocate and defend immigrants' rights. "We haven't seen that before."
The ordinance, authored by City Councilor Jim Mautino, would have required the city to use an electronic verification system, E-Verify, to determine if city employees, city contractors and subcontractors were legal to work in the U.S.
Its first reading was May 20 and sparked a backlash among Hispanic organizations, with groups holding press conferences and contacting media outlets. The City Council voted against the ordinance with a 6 to 3 vote June 18, but not before a press conference was held by the Coalition for the American Dream. The crowds carried over to the City Council meeting as people in favor for both sides attended to be heard.
"Locally, social justice advocates are banding together on this issue," Lizama said.
Mautino's proposal came months after the nation watched a constant stream of media coverage, announcements of boycotts and formations of protestors in response to the implementation of the illegal immigration law in Arizona. Lizama said the local Hispanic community was not willing to let Mautino's proposed ordinance slide without a fight.
"What we have an issue with is when politicians ... say things like 'the city of Tulsa, Okla., finds that illegal immigration is causing economic hardship and lawlessness in the city,'" Lizama said. "That concerns me because to the uninformed listener, that makes people mad. If they believe that statement, people react by praising the person that says these things.
"That's the danger because then ... I get e-mails saying we are a bunch of criminals, that our organization simply advocates for lawlessness."
But Mautino said his proposal was not meant to discriminate against the Hispanic population but was written to tackle illegal immigrants taking jobs away from tax-paying citizens, a problem he said he has seen grow within his district.
His proposal would have added onto a resolution the city council passed in 2007 that addressed illegal immigrants in the city, he said.
"Since that was passed, the government came out with E-Verify to make it easier for the contractor to determine if a citizen was legal or illegal," Mautino said. "All this ordinance does is if you hire a city contractor, you would need to use the E-Verify system to see if the people you have working for you are legal ... so that our tax money doesn't go toward illegal immigrants. Our legal citizens would have a chance at getting a job."
Some accused the proposal of being redundant, stating it was a replica of the controversial state law House Bill 1804 enacted in 2007. Since then, sections of the law have not been implemented after a federal appeals court ruled against those segments. Mautino said he intentionally created the proposal to emulate the section of House Bill 1804 that is implemented today.
"It's not being enforced at the federal level or state level, so it falls on us," he said.
But Lizama said within the first section of the proposal, it was evident Mautino was acting in a reckless way by making a claim in the first section of the proposal that illegal immigrants were causing economic hardship and lawlessness.
To Lizama, there was no way to read past the first statement in the ordinance and still talk about the E-verify system. The process of using the verification system could not be discussed "without first dealing with this situation of this claim, this allegation, that is being offered to us as a real fact and truth. That's the real problem -- trying to inject into the public psyche a reason and reasons to hate a particular group of people."
Lizama fears when politicians use language similar to that seen in Mautino's proposal, the entire Hispanic community becomes a target.
"There are certain inherent dangers by sounding the alarm and trying to label an entire group of people as criminals," he said. "Others see them with this presumption that you look Hispanic, you must be Mexican, you certainly are illegal."
Contrary to the claim that illegal immigrants bring with them a state of lawlessness, Lizama said the opposite is true.
"The spike in crime in Mr. Mautino's district is against Hispanics," Lizama said.
With Hispanics reluctant to contact police after a crime has occurred, they have frequently become victims of crime. In March, Tulsa police took a Hispanic Community Outreach Program started in east Tulsa citywide, offering posters with crime tips and police contact information in Spanish.
But Mautino said he has seen and heard about car wrecks where illegal immigrants leave the scene, leaving the other party to pay for the damage themselves. Other problems have been multiplying too, he said.
"It is a big issue in our district," he said. "We've had a tremendous increase in illegals, and it's really hurting us.
"There are neighborhoods where three or four families live in one house."
Taxpayers are having to pay for this group's medical bills and are not seeing the change they deserve to see in Washington, Mautino said.
"We want to be able to assimilate them into our laws and our way of life," he said. "That's the purpose for legal immigrants -- so that our country can continue with our law and order. That's what makes us the greatest country in the world. Everyone is equal, and it's definitely not equal when you have a sub-culture living here that doesn't follow our laws and rules.
"We are free, we're the freest country, but if we don't monitor what we're doing, we're going to be taken over."
The language used in Mautino's proposal is not the first time the councilor has been ridiculed for his choice in words.
Months ago, when addressing zoning and health issues with mobile food vendors in the city, Mautino made statements about these businesses looking like they were from a Third World country, and that when new residents of the country "come here we assimilate them into our lifestyle and our politics; it's not the other way around." Some Hispanic leaders and organizations have accused Mautino of being racist toward the Hispanic community.
"I'm not a racist," he said. "I have a diverse family ... I have Hispanics in my neighborhood who asked me to do this."
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