Texas Businesses and Faith Leaders, Immigration Advocates Urge Biden Administration and Lawmakers to Act on Immigration

Texan Business and faith leaders and immigration policy experts met recently in Dallas to urge lawmakers and the Biden administration to enact policy changes that would allow long-term undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to apply for work permits. Attendees of the event emphasized the need for bipartisan legislation from Congress to improve border security and provide currently non-existent methods for undocumented immigrants to obtain work permits amidst nationwide workforce shortages, while also calling on the Biden Administration to take immediate administrative actions to create a method for undocumented immigrant spouses of U.S. Citizens to obtain work authorizations.

A key topic of discussion was the positive impact that immigrants have on the Texas economy, the critical role they play in alleviating inflationary workforce shortages across the state, and the need for expanded pathways for immigrants to obtain work permits.

Jaime Puente, Executive Director of Economic Opportunity for Every Texan, highlighted economic data that supports the notion that immigrants benefit the Texas economy while also pointing out how state legislation such as Texas SB4 could drive immigrants out of Texas and affect local economies negatively.

While immigrants make up 17% of the Texas population, they account for 22% of our state’s economic productivity…Newly arrived Texans are hardworking. In the first five years of having the right to work, they increase their annual wages by 45%, contributing nearly $3.75 million in annual state and local taxes per 1000 workers,” said Puente.

Our state is spending billions of dollars and making it more difficult to be an immigrant in Texas by continuing operation Lonestar and SB4…So current state policy costs us all, not only the $12 billion dedicated to punitive and wasteful actions in operation Lonestar but by openly challenging federal authority with SB4. A recent report shows the costs for operation Lonestar spending: 38,000 DPS arrests cost about $295,000 each and each arrest made under Operation Lonestar costs Texas taxpayers about $300,000. The costs to magistrate those cases is more than double. Spending billions while attacking hardworking Texans is an expensive waste of our state’s resources. We could have invested that $12 billion in our schools, our hospitals, and the sure bet that is our immigrant family friends and neighbors. Like hardworking Texans who have been here for generations, people arriving from across the world are yearning to be free and to contribute to an economy starved for workers,” he said about immigration enforcement legislation enacted by the Texas legislature in the absence of federal legislation to improve border security.

Puente also commented on the unconstitutionality of SB4, which is currently on hold awaiting a ruling from the Federal 5th Circuit Court of appeals and a final decision from the Supreme Court on whether it can become law.

The most recent SB4 is an outrageous takeover of federal authority by the Texas government. It is an attempt to usurp federal authority to create and enforce immigration law that is explicitly dedicated to the federal government. It’s so outrageous that Republican State Senator Birdwell, who has been tasked for more than a decade by the lieutenant governor as part of the border security committee, got up and spoke and said ‘this bill is so outrageous that voting for it would make me deny my oath as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. army that I swore to the U.S. government,’” Said Puente.

Zaira Garcia, Regional Government Relations Director for FWD.us, also commented on the negative impacts of state legislation such as SB4.

When we start to target immigrants and make them feel less safe, they are less likely to come forward when they are the victims of a crime. That impacts public safety for everybody. When folks don’t feel safe going to work to provide for their families, they’re going to look for a different place to call home. When that happens, we lose community members and we lose in general in terms of services provided to us,” said Garcia.  

Garcia outlined immediate steps that the Biden Administration can take to provide immediate relief for long-time undocumented Texans in the form of protections from deportation and the ability to legally work for taxpaying employers.

We need permanent legislative solutions, and we need to make sure that our elected officials hear that so they are able to move past political rhetoric and get real solutions done. However, in the meantime, many of our fellow Texans are suffering because they don’t have any protections from deportation and have no real way to earn work authorizations to provide for their families, which brings us to affirmative relief for long term undocumented residents… We’re talking about folks that have been here for decades, many of whom arrived some three decades ago, and we haven’t really touched our immigration system in three decades. Our world looks different than the last time we tried to reform our immigration system. The internet wasn’t a thing, smart phones weren’t a thing, the way that our life operates looks significantly different than the last time we touched our immigration laws. Why are we still operating on such an outdated system that doesn’t meet the needs of today’s world? These folks, many who arrived here decades ago, have built families and lives here. They are part of our churches and worship with us. They provide services and dine in the same places we do,” said Garcia on the need for affirmative relief for long-term undocumented immigrants.

There are several actions that the Biden administration can take to provide immediate relief to millions of undocumented immigrants. Nationwide it would be about 3 million, here in Texas that number is huge at 500,000 folks who are undocumented, have been here for decades, and have no way of getting right with the law. There is currently no line for them to stand in,” she said.

We are asking the Biden Administration to implement parole in place for spouses of U.S. citizens. This would allow folks to stay in the U.S. while they go through currently existing processes to apply for legal status,” said Garcia, while explaining that under current laws most undocumented immigrants (including undocumented spouses of U.S. Citizens) are required to leave the U.S. for 10 years before having the chance to begin applying for legal status.

The other ask is Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which provides work authorization and protections from deportation for those whose home countries are very unsafe for them to return. There is a list of countries that we believe meet the criteria for TPS based on the current conditions of those countries, that don’t have TPS designations. If TPS was designated for those countries, folks who are here undocumented would be able to obtain work authorization,” she said.

Garcia also called for the Biden Administration to expand parole in place for undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for at least ten years and are currently primary caregivers for U.S. citizens.

At the end of the day, the Biden Administration does have the authority to do this…We need to be able to provide solutions now as Congress works on permanent legislative solutions. This is not a legal status, we will always prioritize a call for Congress to provide bipartisan protections, but these kinds of protections provide stability and safety to our communities, prioritize family unity, and make sure that our workforce isn’t losing workers at a time when we are experiencing workforce shortages,” she added, noting that 73 percent of voters express favor toward providing affirmative relief via work permits to Dreamers and other long-term undocumented immigrants residing in the United States.

Further highlighting the need for immediate solutions to allow for long-term undocumented immigrants to obtain work permits, Oscar Silva, a Dreamer who was brought to the U.S. at the age of two and currently has no method to obtain legal status, discussed some of the challenges that he faces with no way to obtain work authorization.

I didn’t really understand what it meant to be a Dreamer until high school when I started to see classmates achieve milestones like getting jobs, getting driver's licenses, and studying abroad. I quickly realized that I had no access to those opportunities because of my lack of legal status. It was a tough time swallowing that pill. With no real opportunity to work, I decided to go to college,” said Silva, who minored in math and majored in economics and accounting, and is now going to graduate school for accounting as he awaits a currently non-existent method to obtain a work permit to legally work in the U.S.

Juan Carlos Cerda, Texas State Director of the American Business Coalition (ABIC), discussed how DACA, a program created through executive action in 2012 to allow certain undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to obtain work authorizations, is a case study proving the benefits extending work authorizations to long-term undocumented immigrants.

I myself am a DACA recipient and an example of what long term residents can accomplish when we have access to work authorization. I was a graduate of Grand Prairie High School and Yale University despite barriers to being a legal permanent resident. Thanks to a work permit I was able to start working legally as a public school teacher, get a driver’s license, and also live the American dream by starting a career, having a family, and owning a home,” he said.

We at ABIC are urging President Biden and Congress too, we shouldn’t let Congress off the hook because ultimately legislation must be passed. But in the meantime, Biden does have the power to expand work authorization to long-term residents including spouses of U.S. citizens, Dreamers without DACA, and long-term undocumented residents who have been living in the U.S. for decades. It’s in the president’s political interest to help U.S. citizens who have these immigrant family members who are wives and husbands and have been here and have families,” he said, noting that over 110 members of Congress support the expansion parole in place for long-term undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens while calling on business leaders in attendance to join others in signing a letter to support this administrative action.

John Stautner, Founder of TexasGOPVote and ConstructionCitizen, pointed out that the policy solutions that were discussed have support from Republican voters, but that political rhetoric often impedes solutions.

Most Republicans actually have a very sensible approach on immigration, it’s the political rhetoric that gets a little bit extreme,” said Stautner.  

Many of our readers and the business leaders that we talk to agree with all the issues that have been discussed today. From the business and economic perspective, they want to see the people who are here identified, work authorized, and they would like them taxed. In other words, working for employers who deduct and match taxes just like they should; like any upstanding company that does things the right way would do. Combined with increased enforcement against worker misclassification and payroll fraud, such a policy would go a long way towards alleviating workforce shortages, increasing tax revenues, leveling the playing field for law abiding businesses and workers, and preventing future illegal immigration. You can read more about this ‘ID and Tax’ policy and its benefits on our website, TexasGOPVote.com,” he added.

Following the meeting, the Biden administration issued an executive order aimed at reducing chaos at the border by rejecting asylum claims of immigrants who cross the border between ports of entry when total border crossings between ports of entry pass a threshold of 2500 per day. It has also been reported that the Biden administration is considering implementing some of the policies that were discussed at this event, especially providing parole in place to long-term undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens.

Additional media coverage of this event:


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