Oklahoma City is home to a diverse cultures and ethnicities, but it is the Hispanic culture that has been influential in the state since earliest recorded history. Much of Oklahoma’s Western heritage has its origins in Hispanic heritage. “Early-day cowboy dress was influenced by the Mexican cattle industry: sombreros, leather chaps, and the lariat can all be traced back directly to the Spanish Southwest,” tells Jana Hausburg in The Hispanic Heritage in Oklahoma City.
Spanish-speaking conquistadors came to the region with Coronado in 1541. Later, Spanish miners became early settlers. Significant Mexican immigration began after 1900, as declining social and economic conditions and the revolution of 1910 drove thousands of Mexicans north to seek stability and employment in Oklahoma.
In the early twentieth century Mexicans constituted a majority of the Oklahoma railroad maintenance crews. They labored in coal mining, participated in the cotton harvests, and held a variety of seasonal jobs throughout the state. By 1930 Mexicans had established colonias in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Bartlesville, Lawton, and towns along the Santa Fe, Rock Island, and Katy railroads.
When the United States entered into World War II, Oklahoma Mexicans and their American-born children embraced opportunities to improve their lives. The war industry opened doors to serve in the armed forces and a path to citizenship became possible for some.
Vietnamese Refugees in Oklahoma
Following the end of the Vietnam war, waves of Vietnamese refugees came to America. In Oklahoma, they settled in the Central Park neighborhood in Oklahoma City with the assistance of Catholic charities. The community became known as “Little Saigon,” or as Oklahoma City’s Asian District. With time, more immigrants came to Oklahoma and the community continued to expand through the launching of local businesses that rose to cater to the tastes of the community.
Oklahoma is home to nearly four million people as of 2020, with 6% of the population being made up of immigrants. Foreign born individuals from Mexico comprise 45% of the entire immigrant population, making it the significantly largest community in Oklahoma’s immigrant population.
Vietnamese and Indian immigrants follow behind the Mexican population with each country of origin making up approximately 5% of the population. The third largest groups of immigrants in the state are from Germany and Guatemala, but each only make up 3% of the population, according to the American Immigration Council.
The south central state is home to 85,000 undocumented immigrants which makes up 38% of the total immigrant population but only 2% of the entire state population.
Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens in Oklahoma live with at least one family member who is undocumented, according to data from the American Immigration Council. In 2016, 85,000 undocumented immigrants comprised 38 percent of the immigrant population and 2 percent of the total state population.
Earlier statistics ranging between 2010 and 2014 record 125,989 people in Oklahoma, including 60,772 U.S. citizens, who lived with at least one undocumented family member. During the same period, about 1 in 20 children in the state was a U.S. citizen living with at least one undocumented family member (47,937 children in total).
Oklahoma is home to thousands of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients: 6,110 active DACA recipients live in Oklahoma as of March 2020, while DACA has been granted to 7,490 people in total since 2012. As of 2019, 59 percent of DACA-eligible immigrants in Oklahoma had applied for DACA. There are currently 6,110 DACA recipients in the state of Oklahoma, with only 59% of the entire eligible population applying for the program.
Oklahoma in Higher Education
International Students: 7,328
First and Second Generation Immigrant Students: 16,000
In-State Tuition and State Financial Aid Access for Undocumented Students: Comprehensive Access
All Students in Higher Education in OK: 196,000
Economic Contributions of International Students in OK: $221.5 million
Jobs Supported by International Students in the State: 2,072
Source: Higher Ed Immigration Portal
|All Immigrant Residents in Oklahoma||238,488|
|Immigrant Share of Total Population||6%|
|Undocumented Immigrants in the State||83,575|
|DACA-Eligible Residents in State||10,181|
|Spending Power of DACA-Eligible Residents||$146.7 million|
|DACA-Eligible Residents Federal Tax Contributions||$21.4 million|
|DACA-Eligible Residents State and Local Tax Contributions||$21.5 million|
|State Immigrant Workers Fill Critical Skills Needs|
|Share of STEM Workers Who Are First-Generation Immigrants||11.5%|
|Share of Nurses Who Are First-Generation Immigrants||6.4%|
|Share of Health Aides Who Are First-Generation Immigrants||6.2%|
|First-Generation Immigrant Faculty and Staff in Colleges, Universities and Professional Schools||5,900|
Driver Licenses & Identification Mobility
Restrictive: Policies do not provide the state’s undocumented residents with access to driver licenses and state identification, but DACA recipients can still obtain a driver’s license or state identification card, according to the Higher Ed Immigration Portal.
Dream Action Oklahoma
Dream Action Oklahoma is a youth organization engrained deeply in the community that advocates for the rights of immigrants in the state and educates the community. The organization began as the Hispanic Student Association at Tulsa Community College in 2009 and has since grown to include youth outside of the college.
The organization developed the Release Them Now! Campaign which calls for “the end of inhumane detention center conditions and prison collaboration with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).” The impetus for the campaign came after the organization saw the continuous imprisonment of immigrants even during the COVID pandemic, exposing them to harmful conditions.
They hold community forums that include the voices of local individuals to voice their concerns over the recent acts Aside from this campaign, this organization has also held virtual DACA clinics on the 3rd Thursday of every month for individuals who needed help in completing their applications or needed updates.
Bill OK HB2774
In April of 2021, Oklahoma passed Bill OK HB2774, a legislation that would require law enforcement to cooperate with ICE to identify and give out the information of inmates or other individuals that immigrated illegally into the country.
Representative John Pfeiffer passed House Bill 2774 through the House Public Safety Committee. The bill would require law enforcement in Oklahoma to comply with federal immigration agencies.
Read more about HB 2774 | https://t.co/1XnZV2SH1t #OKHouseGOP #OKleg pic.twitter.com/XDCXvPwo6C
— OK House GOP (@OKHouseGOP) February 17, 2021
According to author of the bill Senator David Bullard, “With all the problems at our southern border, the number of illegal immigrants in our state is increasing daily, so it’s imperative that our police, sheriffs and other peace officers have clear direction to allow ICE to complete their work and intercept illegals in our prison system. Not only will this ensure that these criminals are held accountable by the immigration agencies, but it will help decrease our overcrowded prison population.”
Bill OK HB 1775 prohibits Oklahoma public schools, colleges and universities from incorporating certain messages about sex and race into any course instruction.
“As governor, I firmly believe that not one cent of tax payer money should be used to define and divide young Oklahomans about their race or sex,” Stitt said in a video he posted on Twitter.
This past week, the Oklahoma State Legislature passed HB 1775, an outright racist and oppressive piece of legislation. As a mom, community member, and the Chair of the OKCPS Board of Education, I am appalled at the flagrant, attempt to erase factual,
— Paula Lewis (@plewisokc) May 4, 2021
Despite challenging bills, newcomers to Oklahoma mention the friendliness of the Oklahoman people. The hospitality is sometimes referred to as the “Oklahoma Standard”—an attitude of compassion and solidarity shaped by tragedy.
“Oklahomans act in kindness and help their neighbors, without hesitation or expecting anything in return,” states Stump and Associates, a firm that works to help immigrants with legal matters. Many organizations in Oklahoma City are centered around helping those in need.
Here are a few:
Catholic Charities of Oklahoma
Oklahoma Department of Human Services
Oklahoma City Literacy Coalition
Kimberly is an undergraduate student majoring in Political Science at UCI. She grew up in a predominantly Latinx community in Southeast LA and is the daughter of two Honduran immigrants. Having seen the obstacles that many immigrants face first-hand has inspired her to pursue a career in immigration law. She hopes to amplify the voices of those in the community during a time where immigration has become one of the most polarizing issues in modern politics. Making sure that underrepresented stories and voices are heard is important in removing the negative stigma around the immigrant community and she hopes to contribute to this change.