New Report Says Oklahoma’s Anti-illegal-immigrant Bill to Cost State $1.3B

OKLAHOMA CITY

A new study estimates that Oklahoma’s anti-illegal immigration law will cause $1.8 billion in economic losses as foreign-born workers flee the state.

The projection is based on 50,000 workers, both documented and undocumented, leaving Oklahoma, causing a 1.3 percent reduction in the gross state product over the next few years.

The Oklahoma Bankers Association said it has no stand on the immigration measure, but commissioned the study after reports from banks about problems incurred by companies that employ immigrant workers.

One restaurant that had been making $5,000 payments to a bank each month closed its doors, construction projects have been delayed because of a lack of workers and farm workers have disappeared, banking officials said.

Oklahoma’s House Bill 1804, written by Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, took effect Nov. 1, preventing undocumented immigrants from obtaining drivers’ licenses and public services.

It criminalized transporting, concealing or harboring them, and eventually will require employers to check immigration status of prospective employees through an online federal program.

State lawmakers around the country are proposing hundreds of bills this year aimed at curbing illegal immigration, including lawmakers in at least eight states sponsoring legislation similar to Oklahoma’s

While the OBA took no position on the Oklahoma measure’s social policy, “bankers do have concerns about unintended consequences that have come as a result of the bill,” said Don Abernathy, chairman of the association.

“That’s the reason we decided to commission this study, to better understand the facts and get a better handle on the costs to the state’s economy and to bank customers,” he said.

The study, by the Economic Impact Group of Edmond, Okla., was based on Oklahoma having a total foreign-born population of 111,000 to 175,000, with an estimated 50,000 to 75,000 being undocumented workers, mainly from Mexico. The state has an overall population of 3.5 million.

According to officials who conducted the study, Oklahoma’s economic losses will build over the next few years, before a slight recovery in the state gross product as new workers move into the state. Officials said the study is consistent with similar analyses performed in Texas. Hispanic leaders have estimated that more than 20,000 undocumented workers, mostly in the Tulsa area, fled the state ahead of the bill taking effect.

Terrill questioned the study’s conclusions after a cursory review of it. He said his legislation was geared toward “an attrition through enforcement approach,” with no mass exodus of undocumented workers expected. He said, however, that the intent of the bill was to have undocumented workers leave Oklahoma for other states and that there is antidotal evidence that is happening. “We still have no hard numbers,” he said.

Terrill called the report “one of the best reports that money can buy to take shots at House Bill 1804.”

“This debate is about a whole lot more than just economics,” he said. “It is about defending the rule of law, it is about upholding our state and national sovereignty and it’s also about the immorality of employing cheap, illegal labor.”

The lawmaker said an anti-illegal immigration group has estimated Oklahoma loses more than $200 million in state revenue through education, medical and other benefits paid to illegal workers and their families.Terrill said the OBA report does not account for those benefits in projecting economic losses to the state.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Oklahoma statute as interfering with federal immigration law.

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