Here’s something that Texas and the White House might agree on: fixing the immigration system.
President Barack Obama says the No. 1 issue for his second term is immigration reform. He put it ahead of deficit reduction, infrastructure investments and gun control.
It’s a cause that Texas leaders should champion, too, because the state stands to benefit greatly.
While there’s always been an economic argument for immigration, especially in Texas, advocates are making a seductive pitch today: It’s one way that government could stimulate the economy without taxpayer money or swelling the deficit.
Business is backing comprehensive reform, sensing that the time is right for sweeping changes. Leaders believe a new system would attract high-skilled and low-skilled workers, lead to a surge in startups and jobs, and lift prospects for millions of undocumented residents already here. It may help Mexico, too.
“We liken immigration to trade,” said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business. “It should ebb and flow with the economy and meet the needs of the economy. The alternative — sealing the border — is devastating to Texas.”
The politics on immigration have shifted since Hispanic voters overwhelmingly embraced Obama and rejected Mitt Romney, who had promoted an immigration strategy of “self-deportation.” The GOP appears eager to change the message, and the outlook hasn’t been this promising since George W. Bush was president. Bush, who’s kept a low profile, spoke out after the election and urged “benevolent” reform.
For many, fixing immigration is about reuniting families and protecting foreign-born workers. For others, it’s about enforcing laws and protecting U.S. citizens. In Texas, where business often comes first, economics will drive much of the debate.
Start by considering that many countries recruit immigrants to work there while the United States has tight restrictions. Most U.S. immigration is for family purposes followed by humanitarian reasons. Just 7 percent of green cards go to so-called principal workers, while a quarter of Canada’s immigrants are admitted for work, according to economists Pia Orrenius and Madeline Zavodny.