You probably heard about the comments made by a Kansas state legislator Virgil Peck that we should shoot illegal immigrants like hogs.
But sadly this type of ignorance, which he was forced to apologize for, isn’t just limited to Kansas.
I was in Oklahoma recently for a conference called Immigration in the
Heartland and with other journalists had the opportunity to interview Republican state Sen. Ralph Shortey. His comments on immigration weren’t as hateful
as Peck’s but some were surprising.
For background, Oklahoma is considering a variety of laws to limit and punish immigrants and Shortey is a main proponent. He also happens to be Native American but told us that most people think he is white.
One of the bills supported by Shortey would establish criminal forfeiture provisions for crimes related to illegal immigration. It passed the Oklahoma Senate last week. The Oklahoma Senate also passed the Official English Language Implementation Act make English the official language of the state. They are dubbing some of this legislation “Arizona-plus” to copycat what passed in that state, and has been stalled in the courts.
“I’m going to continue to create laws that discourage these people from
even coming here. The fact is that they’re not wanted,” Shortey said.
Shortey told us that his church actually supports Spanish-speakers and helped them start their own services. But he supports English-only laws.
He followed that comment by making a huge generalization about immigrants who speak Spanish.
“If they’re here and they can’t speak (English) it’s a pretty good indication they’re illegal,” Shortey said.
There are plenty of immigrants here legally who don’t speak English well. Some of them may be elderly. More than 50 percent of foreign-born Hispanics report that they speak only Spanish at home, according to the PEW Hispanic Center.
But there’s no data that shows what percentage of them could be undocumented and Shortey’s generalization is not something you can document with facts.
Shortey also blamed undocumented immigrants for gang crime.
“They do want just to come up here and work but in the process they are feeding this problem especially related to the illegal alien Hispanic gangs. It’s not helping the problem, it’s only making it worse,” he said.
He said Hispanics in his district don’t respect the law.
“They won’t call the police. They’ll call the local gang dealer to help them with a problem,” Shortey said.
He didn’t present any data to link Latino immigrants to crime.
In fact, a recent study by sociologist Tim Wadsworth of the University of Colorado at Boulder showed a major drop in crime during the 1990s at a time when immigration rose dramatically.
In a 2010 issue of Social Science Quarterly, Wadsworth argued that cities with the largest increases in immigration between 1990 and 2000 experienced the largest decreases in homicide and robbery.
But such facts don’t deter Shortey who wants to blame undocumented immigrants for crime in his state.
I asked Shortey how he felt about defending law and order when U.S. laws had been used against his own people in history.
Shortey said Native Americans “already lost this country once.”
He’s not sure if we’re “losing this country to another culture,” but some of his Native American friends fear “losing this country again.”
Shortey said he’s not a racist. Sure his comments to reporters were not as inflammatory as Peck’s in the state legislature. But they certainly reinforce stereotypes and are being used to pass laws in Oklahoma.
As a counterpoint, he spoke in the same forum as Oklahoma Democratic state Sen. Andrew Rice.
Rice said that immigrants may not report crimes to police out of fear their status will be investigated.
“They’re gonna come out and get investigated and they worry if laws like Arizona-plus get passed they’re going to be questioned,” he said.
Rice said that Hispanics have contributed to the local economy in Oklahoma.
“Without an influx of Hispanic residents, those neighborhoods would be worse off,” he said.