Oklahoma passed one of the toughest laws on immigration enforcement in the nation, arguable tougher than an Arizona bill that has convinced illegal aliens to leave the state. Oklahoma’s “1804” has had the same dramatic impact as its employment enforcement provisions have yet to take effect. Thousands of people have simply left their jobs, leaving some business owners struggling to adjust:
Autumn had arrived in eastern Oklahoma, and workers at the sprawling Greenleaf Nursery were prepping for deadly frosts. They needed to ship plants, erect greenhouses and bunch trees together to protect them against the cold.
But in late October, about 40 employees disappeared from the 600-acre nursery about an hour’s drive from Tulsa. “Some went to Texas, some went to Arkansas,” nursery President Randy Davis says. “They just left.”
Why did the workers, all immigrants, flee? “Those states don’t have 1804,” Davis says.
In a matter of weeks, “1804” has become part of the Sooner State’s lexicon. It refers to House Bill 1804, the Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2007, arguably the nation’s toughest state law targeting illegal immigrants.
The bill did what the legislature wanted even before the deadlines it imposed. Tens of thousands of people have left Oklahoma, perhaps as many as 25,000 from Tulsa alone. School registration has significantly declined, which constitutes part of the cost savings Oklahoma planned to reap from 1804. No one knows whether they have gone back to their home countries or simply moved to another state, but the presumption is that they have done both.
However, the economic impact has been mixed. The state may be saving some costs in education, health care, and law enforcement, but agriculture and construction businesses have been hard hit by the labor shortage. Oklahoma had almost full employment before 1804, so the seasonal work will be hard to fill when everyone already has full-year employment. Sales are off at retail stores, and the housing market will suffer another hit in a year that already portends dark days for residential real estate.
In order to make up for the labor shortage, these industries will have to raise wages, and therefore prices. Taxpayers may save some money and be able to absorb the inflation, but only if Oklahoma cuts taxes and spending to return the savings to the taxpayers themselves. Otherwise, it’s going to get pricey in Oklahoma. One Republican legislator who opposed 1804 says it will be the worst economic event to hit the state since the Dust Bowl, while another says it will eventually show that the net economic impact of illegal immigration to be negative.
The legislature already wants to follow up 1804 with even tougher legislation. This, however, should concern even staunch conservatives. Oklahoma plans a confiscation scheme in which the state takes away property, including real estate, for those who violate the law. We’ve already seen abuses in confiscation penalties on a federal level, which usually precede a conviction.
At least this shows that proper enforcement of employer sanctions might be enough to resolve most of the issues with illegal immigration, and the more onerous proposals may not be needed. It also shows how difficult the transition could be for the entire nation as the process of purging illegal immigrants from our economy slowly proceeds.