Francisco Treviño, President and CEO of the Greater Tulsa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, remembers what happened in 2007 when the Oklahoma state legislature passed one of the country’s most punitive immigration laws. Called the Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, the law went so far as to target U.S. citizens, as well, making it a felony to provide shelter, a job or even a ride to an undocumented immigrant. “The church was half empty that weekend. A lot of parents kept their kids home, and you started seeing a lot of Hispanic businesses close,” Treviño says. “People were afraid.” And rightly so. The Hispanic community became a target. The Hispanic chamber received threatening phone calls. Even Treviño “had a guy tell me to go back home, which had never happened to me,” he says.
The atmosphere of hatred and division took a measurable toll on non-Hispanic businesses, as well. “You started seeing a lot of help-wanted signs on restaurants, hotels, even in the construction business. You had a lot of companies who couldn’t find people,” Treviño says. As many as 25,000 people left the area after the law passed, while others simply stayed out of public places for fear of persecution.
The law is still on the books, although Treviño says it’s no longer enforced. Today, Treviño and his chamber colleagues are working to educate politicians about the important contributions Hispanics make to the state economy. Oklahoma is home to more than 10,000 Hispanic-owned businesses, and those businesses employ roughly 14,000 paid workers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Oklahoma Hispanic community’s buying power was $7.8 billion in 2014—and yes, that’s just in Oklahoma.
It’s clear that if the United States gave undocumented immigrants a way to come out of the shadows it would encourage many to settle in America, buy homes, and contribute even more to the American economy.
Tulsa’s Hispanic community is largely comprised of immigrants. “We are actually the majority now in Tulsa public schools,” he says. Local entrepreneurs know that they need immigrants to buy their products, shop at their stores, eat at their restaurants, and generally keep their businesses running. “Immigrants have put roofs over the heads of American businesses owners,” he says.
Treviño believes that economic contributions by Hispanics could be even greater if undocumented immigrants were given a path to legal residency or citizenship. He’s talked to many undocumented immigrants about what they would do if they could get a green card, and they tell him: “I would sell my stuff in Mexico and buy a better home here in the United States.” It’s clear, he says, that if the United States gave undocumented immigrants a way to come out of the shadows it would encourage many to settle in America, buy homes, and contribute even more to the American economy.