POSTED ON JUNE 13, 2007:
Rights and Wrongs
Police checking of immigration status okayed by Council. The debate, however, continues
The city's Human Rights Department is bracing for an increase in complaints of human rights violations in the wake of Tulsa's expected crackdown on illegal immigration.
District 4 Councilor Maria Barnes asked Dr. Lana Turner-Addison, the department's director, to apprise the City Council last week of what she expects in the way of violations and complaints filed as a result of a resolution recently approved by the body, which asks Mayor Kathy Taylor to direct the Tulsa Police Department to check the immigration status of all arrestees, be it for felony or misdemeanor charges.
The Council approved the measure by a vote of 6-3.
Councilors John Eagleton, Cason Carter, Dennis Troyer and Rick Westcott sponsored the resolution.
The "nay" votes were cast by Councilors Barnes, Roscoe Turner and Jack Henderson.
At the request of the Mayor, the resolution contains a provision specifying that "individuals may file a complaint with the Department of Human Rights if they feel they, or a family member, have been wrongly arrested or jailed as a result of an immigration status inquiry."
Henderson commented that, since the Human Rights Department had requested additional staff before the resolution came up for discussion, they would likely need more personnel if new policies arise as a result of it.
"This is additional work. If you are understaffed now, but you're expecting more work, I would think you'd need more people to do it," he said.
Eagleton, though, pointed out that the resolution "only applies to people being arrested anyway."
"Why would there be more work for the Human Rights Department?" he asked.
"People are just concerned about family members who might get arrested," said Barnes.
"The calls will not be from people arrested, but harassed," said Henderson. "There will be people used and abused and they'll want to file complaints."
Henderson, among others, previously warned that the policy might have the unintended consequence of racial profiling.
"The room was full of Hispanics when we discussed your resolution, so there's going to be concern. We need to address this issue and not skirt around it," Henderson told Eagleton.
"Our resolution," Eagleton corrected.
"We, as a council, are nine individuals and we're subject to have things come up on an agenda that we don't personally agree with, but when all is said and done, just because someone's on the losing side, that doesn't mean it's not the Council's item if the majority of the Council decides in favor of it. I just wanted to make that clear," said Turner, the Council's chairman.
Turner, it bears pointing out again, was an outspoken opponent of the resolution.
Whoever's name is ultimately attached to the measure, Henderson was right--the room was indeed packed beyond capacity with members of Tulsa's Hispanic community when the issue was discussed weeks ago, most of whom seemed to anticipate human rights violations becoming a matter of course if the resolution was enacted.
The Rev. Carlton Pearson, who also attended, even went so far as to say the resolution "has the fingerprints of institutional racism and bigotry."
He said, "It's too abrupt, too severe, too quick. There's a diplomatic way to handle illegal immigration that does not ignite panic."
And "panic" is as good a word as any to sum up the Hispanic community's response to the resolution.
"This opens the door for a lot of confusion," said Sebastian Lantos of the Tulsa-based Coalition of Hispanic Organizations and member of Gov. Brad Henry's Advisory Council on Latin American and Hispanic Affairs.
He said the actions called for in the resolution would threaten to enhance the "unthreading of our society."
One member of the Hispanic community told Council members, "We're getting the message that we're not welcome here."
One of the resolution's sponsors turned their protests around on them, though.
"The fear factor comes from within your community, from your own leaders," said Troyer.
In the past, the councilor explained, in his attempts to build relationships with community leaders within his easternmost District 6, he approached Hispanic leaders, as well as Asians, Russians and others comprising the "11 different cultures" making up his constituency, asking for their attendance at neighborhood meetings and for their cooperation in apprehending criminals in the area.
"We're not interested," they effectively told him, Troyer said.
"Why don't you come to our neighborhood meetings? It's a shame we had to go to this length to get you people to come and talk to us," said the indignant councilor, reiterating that all of his previous attempts to build a rapport with the Hispanic community had been rebuffed.
"You went about it the wrong way!" shouted one man from the congregation, drawing approving responses from a handful of others.
Perception vs. Reality
While anxiety and tempers are elevated over the resolution, as well as over a new, state-level immigration reform law set to take effect in November, Turner-Addison said she doesn't expect an inundation of complaints to result.
An increase in her department's workload is expected, but "we don't see such an increase in complaints that we won't be able to handle it," she told councilors.
Turner-Addison told UTW that she anticipates an increase in inquiries to the Human Rights Department of about 12 percent, and an increase in "legitimate complaints" of about 3 percent.
The increase, though, won't be the result of any increase in incidents of racial profiling or other violations of human rights by the Tulsa Police Department, she said, but because of the increased public attention on her department that's resulting from the resolution.
"It hasn't been out there and communicated that people have us as recourse," said Turner-Addison.
Now that the cat's out of the bag, though, she said she expects more people to take advantage of her department's services.
To meet the increased demand, Turner-Addison is requesting more funds from the city to pay for a Spanish translator.
Barnes also suggested that the agency's human rights complaint forms be translated into Spanish and distributed throughout the city by the American Dream Coalition and other Hispanic interest groups.
Turner-Addison told UTW that, between 2002 and 2006, her department handled anywhere from 751 to 1,890 complaints per year.
Few, if any, were complaints about wrongful arrest due to race, she said. Most dealt with landlord/tenant and employee/employer relationships.
Turner-Addison was asked if there was any way to determine what percentage of those complaints were over actual human rights violations, or merely perceived violations.
At the moment, she said, there isn't, but a disparity study is currently underway to answer that very question, which she said should take up to three years to complete.
The Mayor has yet to publicly comment on the resolution set before her by the Council.
Kim MacLeod, Taylor's spokesperson, said the Mayor's attention is focused more on clarifying the existing policy than on the resolution, which is non-binding.
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