There are nearly 237,000 immigrant residents in Oklahoma, making up about 6.1 percent of the state’s population. These individuals have built lives, raised families, and become an integral part of our communities, but for many years, legislation has treated our immigrant residents as threats rather than neighbors. Oklahoma’s immigrants want their families to thrive, but frequently, unnecessary barriers keep them from being able to realize their full potential— both for themselves and their contributions to our communities.
In recognition of the need to address these inequities, the Oklahoma Policy Institute has expanded its team to include an analyst position focused on immigration as a policy area. Our work in this field will start by coordinating with established organizations focused on immigrant rights and services. Additionally, we will be working closely with immigrant communities themselves to ensure that all Oklahoma residents’ voices are heard. It’s vital for residents to actively participate in shaping policies that help all Oklahomans lead healthy and prosperous lives.
Better immigration policy will benefit all of us
While it’s true that states have little ability to influence federal immigration policy, states do have the power to pass legislation that affect immigrants— and in turn benefit all Oklahomans. For instance, allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses is a proven way to increase community safety, decrease the number of uninsured drivers, and decrease the likelihood of hit-and-run accidents. This policy is equally beneficial to immigrants themselves, offering them a form of identification in everyday life and reassurance that a routine traffic stop does not complicate into a bigger issue.
Another state-level policy that is proven to help both immigrants and the community as a whole is the expansion of Oklahoma’s Earned Income Tax Credit, a targeted tax relief measure for the working poor. Many immigrants pay state and federal taxes by using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, but state law excludes immigrants from receiving the state EITC. Expanding the state EITC to those who file using an ITIN would equitably give back to families who pay their taxes. In Oklahoma, immigrant households pay $656.8 million every year to state and local taxes, and expanding the credit would inject $1 million dollars annually to our state and local economies through local spending. The state EITC’s benefits are well-documented, and extending this credit to working immigrant households will only increase its positive effects on Oklahoma communities.
OK Policy will seek to uplift immigrant voices
As we push for sound immigration policy, OK Policy wants to ensure we recognize the experience and knowledge of immigrant rights and immigrant-serving organizations. Just as importantly, we want to include the voices of immigrants themselves in a way that reflects the different needs and perspectives of such a diverse group. No one knows more about what a community needs than the community itself. By engaging in a continuous dialogue with community members, OK Policy can address what legislation would positively impact the people it’s meant to serve. There is ample space for immigration work in our state, and it is important organizations in this work travel together, with the community guiding the direction we take.
A community is a community, regardless of immigration status
Oklahoma and the economy benefit from immigration, and our lawmakers have the responsibility to look after those they govern, regardless of immigration status. Immigrants are an undeniable part of the Oklahoma community, and every Oklahoman benefits when the state adopts inclusive policies as opposed to advancing anti-immigration legislation that is destructive to individuals, families, and the economy. Given the tremendous contributions immigrants have made throughout our nation’s history, bringing immigrants into the fold does not have to be a divisive issue in Oklahoma; instead, it can become a way to strengthen our state, our communities, and our economy. The time for bold legislation is now, and OK Policy stands ready to work alongside our friends and neighbors to ensure our state policies work on behalf of all Oklahomans.