Studies detail immigrants’ contributions to state

24 Mar

March 23, 2011

BY M. SCOTT CARTER
THE JOURNAL RECORD

OKLAHOMA CITY – Despite the claims by some state lawmakers, immigrants in Oklahoma – both documented and undocumented – make substantial contributions to the economy, are not solely responsible for an increase in crime and did not, as one legislator suggested, cause the demise of a major retail center in central Oklahoma City, several studies show.
With the debate raging over the state’s latest anti-immigration legislation, some Oklahoma legislators have suggested that illegal immigrants bring a host of problems – both social and economic – with them when they come to Oklahoma.
Those claims have been used to buttress the need for additional legislation – often called Arizona-plus legislation – to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in the state.
In a speech Monday at Oklahoma City University, Republican state Sen. Ralph Shortey claimed illegal immigrants were largely responsible for the economic and social deterioration in his south Oklahoma City neighborhood.
“I grew up in south Oklahoma City,” said Shortey. “What we have seen in south Oklahoma City is tremendous change. We’ve seen a cultural shift and an economic shift, but the people have remained the same. We have a lot of people that have retired. We’ve seen Capitol Hill High School go from its glory in the old days to where it is now – which is not where it was.”
Shortey pointed to an influx of illegal immigrants as the reason behind those problems.
“People have seen their property values deteriorate; they have seen crime rates go through the roof and they have seen gang activity,” he said.
However, several studies – including a report commissioned by the Oklahoma Bankers Association, the University of Georgia and data from the U.S. Census Bureau – paint a much different picture of the state’s legal and illegal immigrant population.
In fact, one study predicted the state would lose hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity should all the undocumented workers be removed.
“If all unauthorized immigrants were removed from Oklahoma, the state would lose $580.3 million in economic activity, $257.8 million in gross state product, and approximately 4,680 jobs, even accounting for adequate market adjustment time,” a report by the Perryman Group noted.
Further, the report noted, “evidence suggests that undocumented workers pay far more in overall taxes than they receive in benefits from various governments.”
A 2008 study commissioned by the Oklahoma Bankers Association underscored those claims.
Produced by the Economic Impact Group of Edmond, the OBA study said the state could see economic losses of about $1.8 billion if 50,000 members of the state’s foreign-born population were forced to leave.
“If one-half (roughly 50,000 people) of all the state’s immigrant labor force was removed, Oklahoma’s economy would be reduced by 1.32 percent in the short run – a reduction of nearly $1.8 billion relative to 2006 production levels,” the OBA study noted.
Real estate experts also refuted Shortey’s claim that illegal aliens were responsible for the demise of Crossroads Mall in Oklahoma City.
During his speech at OCU – and at an earlier forum sponsored by the University of Oklahoma and the Institute for Justice in Journalism – Shortey pointed to the state’s illegal immigrant population as the primary reason for the demise of Crossroads Mall.
“As a kid I used to go to Crossroads Mall,” he said. “I went there all the time and felt safe. As you know, now, that mall is gone. The economic impact of illegal immigration has taken its toll on south Oklahoma City.”
However, the real reason behind the death of Crossroads Mall, real estate analyst Darren Currin said, was economic trends and not illegal immigrants.
“It was a combination of several factors,” Currin said. “A perfect storm of problems if you will.”
Currin said the biggest factor was a 10-year trend by merchants seeking open-air power spaces. “Merchants such as JCPenney were moving toward open-air spaces,” he said. “That’s why they moved from Crossroads to Moore. They’re following the demographics to the south and west.”
And those areas, Currin said, show the largest economic growth.
Currin said factors that contributed to the mall’s problems included long-term construction delays near the mall’s entrances, the difficulty in accessing the mall and problems involving its operation.
“Crime really wasn’t a big issue,” he said. “Any mall is going to draw some criminal activity. But Crossroads’ big problems were caused by other factors.”
Shortey also claimed illegal immigrants were causing businesses to leave the state.
“In the meantime, we have to pay the bill,” he said. “In the meantime, we have businesses that are leaving the state because they cannot compete with an illegal workforce. In the meantime, we are losing millions, hundreds of millions that are being wire-transferred to Mexico. We are losing hundreds of millions of dollars in income tax. We’re losing hundreds of millions in the amount of money that we are having to pay for health care and things like that.”
However, a 2009 study from the University of Georgia said Latino immigrants were responsible for billions of dollars in purchasing power.
According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, the 2009 purchasing power of Oklahoma’s Latino population totaled $5.8 billion – an increase of more than 708 percent since 1990. A 2002 study by the U.S. Census Bureau noted the state’s 5,442 Latino-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $1.1 billion and employed 8,161 people in 2002, the last year for which data is available.
Shortey said his goal was simple: send a message to the Oklahoma’s illegal immigrants that the state didn’t want them.
“I’m trying to do things to tell illegal immigrants don’t come to our state,” he said. “Go someplace.”

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One Response to “Studies detail immigrants’ contributions to state”

  1. Larry Brainard March 24, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    Let me suggest that not all Arizonans support any type of “Arizona Plus” legislation. The currest president of the Arizona Senate, Russell Pearce, was behind five additional anti-immigrant measurers which his own senate defeated earlier this month (dealing with “anchor babies”, blocking of schools from enrolling alien children, etc.). I hope my home state of Oklahoma does not fall into the blame game trap that Arizona is facing. This kind of negative and biased hate speech is a dead end for those seeking a short cut back to economic stability.

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