Business and community leaders in Oklahoma called on Congress Wednesday to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
“We can ask, we can petition, we can do all that we are constitutionally allowed to do,” said state Sen. Brian Crain. His district in Tulsa includes a significant Hispanic population. “I think this is an excellent time for us because the debate is ongoing, and it’s time for us to take action. “There's probably never been a better time - in our lifetimes at least - for us to look at immigration reform."
The Partnership for a New American Economy launched its Reasons for Reform campaign urging Congress to make citizenship easier and establish a guest worker program. The report says 10,000 immigrants in Oklahoma are self-employed, and businesses owned by immigrants employ nearly 30,000 people and generate $201 million in income, according to The Oklahoman’s Rick Green:
The immigrant population grew 4.8 percent in the state over the four-year period, compared to 5.8 percent nationally.
Despite the increases in this population, it has never been harder to find qualified farm labor, Terry Detrick, president of American Farmers & Ranchers, said Wednesday in a state Capitol news conference at which the report was released.
“The problem has reached crisis- level shortages on Oklahoma farms and our agriculture imports have skyrocketed,” said Detrick, of the Enid area. “A comprehensive overhaul of our country's guest worker program will bring more opportunity for our state's farmers and the workers they are desperate to employ.”
The group’s report says immigrants make up 5.7 percent of Oklahoma’s population and contribute $1.1 billion in taxes. Lori Walke, a pastor at the Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ in northwest Oklahoma City, said even if immigration reform provides an economic benefit at both the federal and state level, it’s important not to forget the people behind the numbers, eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley writes:
"Immigration is about economics but it's really about people. People who are trying to make a better life, people who dream of starting a business, people who want to be safe, people who want to go to school, people who want the best for their kids," she said. "So while the report about the contribution is helpful in explaining why the economy will benefit from a more just immigration policy we should also remember the people hidden in those statistics."
Walke, along with all the other speakers, called for reform of "inhospitable policy." Crain, who said he represents the center of the Hispanic community in Tulsa, reiterated the point, encouraging people to call on Congress and request reform.
"Call on Congress to make sure that we have an immigration reform package which works for our country, that makes us stronger than we are and not weaker than we are. We need to provide ourselves and continue as the land of opportunity to every citizen who qualifies," he said.
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