DURANT, Okla. -- Oklahoma's new immigration laws have gained a reputation as some of the toughest in the United States. On Monday, local businesses gathered for a seminar at the Kiamichi Technology Center to learn more about how those laws affect them.
Attorney Bill Wells has been touring Oklahoma to help explain the new law and make the transition easier for businesses, many of whom say they are already feeling the legislation's effects.
On November 1, 2007, it became mandatory for Oklahoma businesses providing services to state agencies and some subcontractors to use an online person verification system that will tell the employer whether the job applicant is a legal citizen.
The system is optional for other businesses, but there are benefits.
"The motivation for using that is if an employer is using that type of system, they can avoid any liability under the law if by chance it turns out they're employing someone illegally," Wells says.
But the law had some immediate side effects. Wells says business owners told him that they saw an immediate decrease in labor, both illegal and legal.
"Some of the folks that left were here legally, but were concerned that they were going to be harassed, arrested, or detained simply because they might be from a foreign country."
Carolyn Malone works in human resources at GAMCO in Durant. She says their application process including drug, alcohol, and background checks, along with social security number verification has always been strict, and even though their requirements haven't changed, GAMCO has been feeling the pinch too, with fewer applicants for available jobs.
"Well right now, I have 2 openings. And I’ve had 30 people apply. Before that, I would have at least 80-90 before," Malone says.
Wells says when the law first took effect in November, many of the people who left Oklahoma chose to go to Texas or Arkansas, where immigration laws are less strict.