Texas is on the front line of the current immigration debate. We have seen firsthand the cost of a broken border and the toll it can have on citizens and immigrants alike. There also has been a toll on Texas businesses that can be removed only by Congress and the president putting into place comprehensive immigration reform.
Sealing the border is essential, but loading up the border with more border patrol officers is only part of the answer. Those officers need to focus on criminal activity, such as drug smuggling and human trafficking. Focusing on people who are simply looking for a way to feed their families takes away valuable resources from fighting violent crimes that plague this country.
The real answer to our immigration problem is allowing enough legal immigration to meet the needs of employers. If employers’ needs are met, there will be an expanded avenue for people to enter legally and allow for greater focus on those who enter illegally.
Piecemeal plans won’t fix the issue. Border security and additional avenues for legal immigration must work in tandem. Border security will never be adequate unless legal immigration is put in place. This is more than a “boots on the ground” problem. It is a supply and demand issue, too. As long as jobs are available, there are immigrants who will access this country by legal or illegal means if it is the only way to support their families.
If there is one major flaw in current immigration reform plans, it is that they don’t offer enough legal immigration flexibility. There should be an ebb and flow as the economy and job markets dictate, not hard and fast numbers.
To those who argue that allowing more legal immigration will take away jobs from citizens, that view is inaccurate at best. It has never been the case, for example, that there were no Texans willing to take jobs in the hospitality, construction and agriculture fields – there certainly are. The problem is there are not enough. Supplementing with legal immigrants is the only way to meet the economic demands of these industries.
Then there is the question of how to deal with the undocumented people already here. In many cases these are people who have homes, pay taxes and abide by the same laws that citizens like you and I do. They should be allowed to apply for legal status or apply for a “green card” for lack of a better term. That is not amnesty. They would still have to go through a lengthy process, first to gain legal status in this country and then to pursue citizenship if they so choose.
There is also the issue of students, who come to this country and get advanced degrees in science and engineering, and are then sent back home. They should be given the option of staying here and using their talents that we have helped them gain to benefit our economy. These students have the potential to not only make great discoveries and breakthroughs, but they also have the potential to create new jobs and even new industries.
These solutions seem simple, but in politics, simple is complicated. We urge Congress to take bold steps to deal with this issue as a whole, to remember that this is more about people than policy and should be handled with compassion, and take a good look into how expanding legal immigration will benefit this country for years to come.
Bill Hammond is president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business.