July 18, 2010


Fear drives many illegal immigrants from Mexico to Oklahoma: Mexican nationals appear to be entering Oklahoma illegally as steadily as ever for work, family and sanctuary from a violent homeland. They come despite a sagging economy and anti-immigration sentiments. (RON JACKSON, 7/18/10, Oklahoman)

The Rev. Michael Chapman, pastor of Holy Angels Catholic Church near downtown Oklahoma City, likens the migration trend to "a flowing river.”

"I see new faces every week,” Chapman said. "Generally, they have some sort of family tie to the parish — a brother, a sister, a cousin.”

Chapman suspects all the 600 parish families either know or are related to an illegal immigrant. [...]

Jessica's story is typical of countless others living in Oklahoma illegally. She left Mexico last year at the mere whisper of opportunity.

Last summer she worked 12-hour days as a waitress in Monterrey, riding several hours to and from work on a bus. Loved ones feared for her safety, let alone her future.

"My father begged me to come to the United States,” said Jessica, who asked that her last name not be used.

"He said I could go to school and get an education. For years, he has lived in Oklahoma, but has been nothing more to me than a photograph and a voice on the phone. Finally, I decided to go.”

Clutching fake documents, Jessica crossed the border checkpoints undetected. She reunited with her father who had been living in Oklahoma illegally for years. Today she attends an Oklahoma City high school and dreams of becoming a teacher. The dream is a long shot given her immigration status, but one she clings to nonetheless.

But her motivation to live in Oklahoma is ultimately fueled by something more fundamental.

"Why did I come?” Jessica said. Tears fell from her cheeks as she paused and then answered, "Family.”

Miguel Banuelrs is arguably as connected to his community as anyone. He owns a meat market, bakery and money wire service at NW 29 Street and Western Avenue in south Oklahoma City, an area saturated in Hispanic culture.

One can buy authentic Hispanic food from aging trucks parked along NW 29, or gaze at storefront windows decorated with colorful pinatas, Spanish signs and Mexican flags.

Mostly, onlookers will see a neighborhood teeming with people. They are working as cooks, maids, janitors, masons, landscapers and roofers, and according to Banuelrs, traveling from previous stops in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and even Arizona where Senate Bill 1070 has illegal immigrants fearful.

Banuelrs saw a different neighborhood after the passage of Oklahoma's HB 1804.

"People were scared,” he said. "A lot of people left. Those who stayed wouldn't go outside. I lost 25 percent of my business.”

Times have again changed. The fear has subsided. Banuelrs points to Fridays as a good indication of the local activity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 18, 2010 9:34 AM
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