OKLAHOMA CITY, OK — Fearful both for their lives and of deportation, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras and his three children hid in a neighbor’s backyard in Oklahoma City as three teenagers pelted them with BB-guns earlier this week. The father and two of his children were injured, but were afraid to go the hospital to get their wounds treated, a police spokesman said.
The three juveniles who shot at the Honduran family have been identified, but won’t be charged because the victims aren’t cooperating, said police Capt. Bo Mathews, the Oklahoma City Police Department’s public information officer.
It’s a common story among undocumented immigrants who may fear deportation more than they do those committing crimes against them.
Mathews said police generally have a good relationship with undocumented immigrants living in Oklahoma City, but said “they’re going to be afraid and maybe think that because of something that happened in their own country, we’re going to take them to jail.”
“That’s not how we operate in Oklahoma City,” he said, adding that while the police department may occasionally provide backup to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, “we are not going on any type of raids to round up undocumented immigrants.”
President Trump, an immigration hardliner, has done little to calm migrants’ fears. Earlier this month, the Trump administration targeted 2,000 asylum-seeking families in 10 U.S. cities in immigration raids designed to send a message to Central Americans there are consequences for illegally crossing the southern border. The raids didn’t materialize as expected, resulting in only 35 arrests, but acting ICE director Matthew Albence has said the operation will be ongoing.
The threatened raids on Sunday, July 14, caused many undocumented immigrants to hide in their homes and avoid normal activities like going to church, shopping at businesses in immigrant-heavy communities and going to their jobs.
The same fear grips undocumented immigrants and sends them underground when they’re crime victims, Mathews said.
“Based on the reports I’ve read, they were scared, felt they had nowhere to turn and were afraid they would be reported if they went to local authorities,” he said.
Although charges won’t be filed against the teens who shot the Honduran man and his children, they had every right to fear the teens, Mathews said. A police report described the BB- or Airsoft guns the teens fired at the family as “realistic looking.”
The incident was reported to police by neighbor Zita Quintero, who turned over to police security surveillance video showing the teens pointing the guns at the family. The father was shot in the shoulder, his 6-year-old daughter was shot in the leg and his 11-year-old son was shot in the arm.
Quintero, speaking to news station KFOR, said she started to follow the teens when they ran from her yard, but turned back when she saw they were armed with what she believed to be more powerful guns.
“I was terrified,” Quintero told the news station. “I’m still terrified. The little boy was holding his arm. I said, ‘Let me take you to the hospital, he’s bleeding’.”
The father seeking medical treatment might trigger a report, too, so Quintero took them to their home, the report said.
“I feel for that family right now, I really do, and I wish we could help these people out because they need help, they need our help,” Quintero told KFOR. “I wish I could do more for them because this is not right.”
Matthews can’t say if the incident was isolated, or how often immigrants are targeted in violent crimes.
“You’ll never know how many unreported rimes take place, and it’s just not undocumented people,” Matthews said.
Oklahoma City has a small but growing immigrant population. The Hispanic population in the city of 649,000 increased 85 percent from 2000 to 2010, with the proportion of the population increasing from 5 percent to 9 percent during the period.
A recent study by the American Society of Criminology found that in neighborhoods where 10 percent of residents are immigrants, about half of violent crimes go unreported. In communities with an immigrant population of 65 percent, the odds violent crimes such as aggravated assault, robbery and rape will be reported drops to around 5 percent.
Study authors Min Xie, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland, and Eric Baumer, a professor of sociology and criminology at The Pennsylvania State University, did not look at crime victims’ immigration status.
Mathews doesn’t think it “happens a lot in Oklahoma City” that migrants are targeted with violent crime, and Mayor David Holt has sent a strong message that diversity is one of the city’s hallmarks.
He recently tweeted his support for immigrants and people of color in response to Trump’s comments telling four U.S. congresswomen collectively known as “The Squad” they should “go back” to their home countries and “then come back and show us how it is done.” All four are U.S. citizens, and three of them were born in this country.
“Oklahoma City is a diverse community where 60 percent of our children are non-white. Many of our residents are immigrants. Almost all of us are the descendants of immigrants,” Holt tweeted, adding the city also works closely with Native Americans to “to honor those who were truly the first Americans.”
Mathews said Holt’s support, the police department’s policy on ICE raids and other efforts should send a strong message to immigrants, whether undocumented or living in the city legally, that Oklahoma City is a safe place for them to live.
“We want everybody in Oklahoma City to feel safe and feel they can call police,” Mathews said. “Just because you’re undocumented doesn’t mean people have the right to commit crimes against you.”