10 November 2005
A whole lot of ferric oxide
I've seen the billboard. It claims that illegal immigrants cost this state $475 million a year, and yesterday it spurred a news story on KWTV, which I didn't see. The reader who pointed me to it complained, "[I]in my 22 years in Oklahoma City, I have never seen such a horribly biased story. Even though surveys show that illegal immigration is a top concern of the people of this state, you would never know it by this report."
So I went back and watched the story, and it didn't come off so much as biased as it did dismissive: the persons behind Oklahomans For Immigration Reform Now, which inexplicably is rendered as the acronym I.R.O.N., were basically given the back of the editorial hand. (They've posted a response to the story here.)
The Pew Hispanic Center guesstimates [link requires Adobe Reader] that there are between 55,000 and 85,000 "foreign-born persons" in Oklahoma "without proper authorization." Split the difference and call it 70,000. If you buy that $475 million figure in aggregate, that's $6785 a head. This seems more believable if you look at, say, the price of education: Oklahoma City Public Schools in 2004 were spending $5882 per student. But while there are certainly costs involved, there are also benefits: a cursory look down Commerce Street will tell you rather quickly that not all the money earned by illegals is being wired back to Mexico.
My own thinking is admittedly somewhat murky on this issue. Clearly our borders are entirely too porous, and some people we'd rather not have (gang members, the occasional terrorist) take advantage of this fact. On the other hand, people who simply want to work aren't my idea of a threat. And while rounding up seventy thousand people might have a certain visceral appeal, it's not going to happen at least, not on George W. Bush's watch.
And inasmuch as ninety-something percent of Oklahomans have ancestors who were immigrants, I tend to think it's just a bit unseemly to complain about all those damn furriners. When we, as a nation, look at the new arrivals, and our first thought is not what they might bring to the table, but what they might take from the Treasury, we've changed, and not for the better.
A few moments later: Does this mean I think we ought to leave everyone alone and ignore the situation? No. "Out of sight, out of mind" results in stories out of France. But I have a great deal of trouble with the idea of discriminating against people who want to work, especially when we have entirely too many people who don't.