TULSA — Nowhere in the state has the immigration battlefield been more bloodied than in Tulsa. And nowhere has the exodus of Hispanic immigrants been more pronounced. Those on both sides of the argument say enforcement has been fueling the fire.
The Tulsa County sheriff's office is the only law enforcement agency in the state to have officers trained to enforce federal immigration laws. It has detained and helped to deport more than 1,000 illegal immigrants since July.
The Greater Tulsa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce estimates that between 15,000 and 25,000 Hispanic immigrants have left the city in the last few months. Hispanic religious leaders there say they have seen their congregations reduced roughly by half.
"Some people think it's a federal issue, but so is robbing a bank. You just don't ignore it when you see it happening, if you are law enforcement,” said Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz, who has 30 officers dually trained in enforcing federal immigration law. Since July, when training was completed, his department has been delivering an average of 85 illegal immigrants per month to the Department of Homeland Security for deportation.
Arrests made by Tulsa County Sheriff's deputies have resulted in a decline in the jail population of about seven percent, or 100 inmates. Glanz says federal immigration law gives him an additional tool to get undesirables off the street.
"We are identifying and removing what we call frequent flyers, people we consider major criminals,” Glanz said, adding that he has been surprised by hesitation from other law enforcement agencies.
"I don't think they understand the implications on the community of having a strong underbelly of illegal aliens. They end up working a lot of domestic violence cases, a lot of drug cases and shootings they wouldn't have to if they would just enforce immigration laws,” Glanz said. "When you have a bunch of illegals in a community, it spawns other types of criminal activity; it helps create an environment where that criminality can exist.”
One recent driving under the influence stop got Enrique Martinez-Mejia, a convicted sex offender from California, off the street. Mejia was originally booked under the name Salvador Sanchez-Espinoza, because he presented deputies with fraudulent documents to that effect. Mejia had tattooed dates for 10 of the last 14 years of his life, spent in prison in Chino, Calif. He has been deported from the United States, Glanz said.
Another recent arrest was of two alleged rapists in Tulsa, Glanz said. Deputies say Pedro and Rosalio Morin were using an 11-year-old girl as a sex slave. The young girl and her mother also were illegal immigrants.
The sheriff's department is working to help them get legal status to remain in this country, at least for the duration of the legal proceeding against the girl's assailants.
Three years ago, Tulsa Sheriff's deputies uncovered an alleged human trafficking operation during a traffic stop.
There were two people sitting in the front of the van and 15 illegal immigrants — including two young girls — crammed in the back. The van was en route to Chicago. When the deputies contacted immigration authorities, they were told to let them go, Glanz said.
"Those two girls probably ended up in prostitution, and there's no telling how much money those two drivers made in trafficking human beings into this country,” Glanz said. "That's why I started trying to get this program together.”
Two sides of the law
As far as his approach to immigration enforcement and sense of urgency concerning the threat illegal immigrants pose, Glanz's department essentially stands alone.