TBC: Economic and Social Reality on the Texas-Mexico Border

EL PASO, Texas – The Texas Border Coalition, which represents communities from El Paso to Brownsville, has published a white paper titled Texas Borders, History, Policy and Management.

TBC hopes the white paper “will spur a robust national debate that results in bipartisan, incremental reform of the U.S. immigration system during the lame duck session of Congress.”

A section in the white paper gives recommendations on immigration reform. This section is published below.

Recommendations for Immigration Reform

Given the repeated failure to pass immigration legislation over the past 20 years, how could Congress successfully pass reform legislation in 2022?

First, Congress should avoid the comprehensive legislative approach that helped doom prior efforts. Rather than rallying support from disparate interests, the comprehensive approach has rallied opponents. Instead, Congress should approach reform, after the November elections, by adopting a package of discreet proposals that command bipartisan support.

In addition to adopting an incremental legislative approach, Congress should avoid being caught in the trap of “security first.” An exclusive focus on immigration enforcement, as demonstrated by results over the past several decades, will not result in an orderly, fair immigration process. The Texas Border Coalition has advocated for years that the most important factors for improving border security are to adopt immigration reforms that would provide legal avenues for workers to enter the United States when needed, allowing border officials to focus more resources on criminal and terrorist threats.

Atop the list of bipartisan proposals should be the Dream Act to provide legal status for undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children. There are about 3 million such immigrants in the U.S. today; about 800,000 immigrants are enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that temporarily defers their potential deportation. On average, DACA enrollees arrived in the U.S. around age 7 and have lived here for more than two decades.

There is urgency in passing the Dream Act because the program’s protections face court challenges, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in favor of the program. Although the Biden Administration has proposed new rules to shore up the program, court challenges remain a threat.

House and Senate lawmakers have introduced bipartisan Dream Act proposals that would provide Dreamers with statutory protection from deportation and an opportunity to obtain legal status in America. The House passed its version of the bill on March 18, 2021, on a 228–197 bipartisan vote. A bipartisan group of Senators have engaged in negotiations on a compromise bill but have yet to achieve consensus. When the November election concludes, they will have about six weeks to reach agreement and remove the threat of deportation for Dreamers. Polls consistently show the Dream Act is popular, including a June 2021 sampling that found support from 72 percent of voters.

Furthermore, the Dream Act is responsive to both social and economic reality. Should the legislation fail, and the courts hold the Dreamers’ immigration status to be illegal, these young people could be deported and forcibly removed from the only society they have known. They could be returned to birth countries where they have no memory or connection, and often no close family. The situation in which they would find themselves is not the result of any choice they have made, yet they could pay a substantial social price for having been raised in the U.S., which in turn would lose their valuable contributions. If Texas Dreamers were forced to leave, Texas GDP would decline by about $8 billion a year.

Economically, Dreamers today can use their temporary status to gain employment and financial stability, providing economic benefits to the nation and tax revenue to governments. Should the Dream Act pass, the economic contributions of Dreamers will grow; should it fail, their economic inputs would be removed. 

Likewise, the proposed Farm Workforce Modernization Act would stabilize the agricultural workforce, of which at least half is undocumented (some studies suggest the percentage is closer to three-quarters). The legislation would allow farm workers to earn legal status and improve the current temporary farm worker program. Helping alleviate the farm labor shortage would prevent the loss of crops that would otherwise rot in fields, assuring an adequate food supply and controlling inflation. It would also help restore the circulatory nature of farm labor, allowing farm workers to return to their families in their home countries (half or more are from Mexico) when their work in the U.S. is done, while relieving agricultural employers of the fear of punishment for violating U.S. labor law.

The farm workforce proposal passed the House of Representatives March 18, 2021, on a bipartisan vote of 247-174. A group of Senate Republicans and Democrats are negotiating provisions of a companion bill.

The bipartisan Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would assign unused visas for up to 15,000 immigrant physicians and 25,000 nurses, helping alleviate healthcare provider shortages made worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. The related bipartisan Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act would waive the requirement that foreign medical school graduates return to their home counties for two years before they are eligible to apply for an immigrant visa or permanent residence, provided they work in medically underserved areas.

Combined, these bills would relieve medical provider shortages in more rural states with complex health care needs. By increasing access to healthcare in rural areas, the legislation would help alleviate emergency room visits and ongoing care needs for many Americans, providing obvious social and economic benefits. 

Inefficient policies, budget restrictions and mismanagement at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has resulted in the expiration of USCIS’ authority to issue hundreds of thousands of Green Cards (officially, Permanent Resident Cards) that allow legal, temporary immigrants to permanently live and work in the United States. Bipartisan House and Senate leaders have introduced legislation to recapture the unissued Green Cards and allow them to be reallocated for current use. Similar recapture legislation was enacted in 2000 and 2005.

Meanwhile, it is essential that Congress continue to fund the Emergency Food and Shelter program operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to assure that local governments and non-governmental organizations can carry on programs to address the needs of migrants entering the U.S. 

Besides providing long-term security to hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants working across every economic sector, the Niskanen Center estimates approval of recapture legislation could boost the Gross Domestic Product by as much as $815 billion over 10 years.

There is great urgency for Congress to act before the year is out. By tackling the limited, bipartisan package of immigration reforms, Congress can begin to build a foundation to make the American immigration system functional again – making effective management at the border more likely to be realized, including needed reforms to the asylum system. Failure to act will continue a broken system with consequences for immigrants, their families, the American economy, and society.

The Texas Border Coalition is at the ready to join with any all who are interested in seeking solutions that unite us instead of problems to divide us.

About the Texas Border Coalition

The Texas Border Coalition (TBC) is a collective voice of border mayors, county judges, economic development commissions focused on issues that affect nearly 2.8 million people along the Texas-Mexico border region and economically disadvantaged counties from El Paso to Brownsville. TBC is working closely with the state and federal government to educate, advocate, and secure funding for transportation, immigration and ports of entry, workforce and education and health care. For more information, visit the coalition website at www.texasbordercoaltion.org.

Editor’s Note: The above commentary is the third in a four-part series documenting a Texas Border Coalition white paper titled Texas Borders, History, Policy and Management. Part One focuses on the history of the Texas-Mexico border region. Click here to read it. Part Two focuses on Economic & Social Reality on the Texas-Mexico Border. Click here to read it. Part Four, focusing on border management recommendations will be posted in our next edition. 

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