In Texas, Religious Leaders, Law Enforcement and Businesses Call for Sensible Immigration Reform

Leaders in Texas’ business, law enforcement, and faith communities met at Austin Stone Community Church recently for a Texas convening of Bibles, Badges, and Business hosted by the National Immigration Forum. The network of faith, law enforcement, and business leadership discussed how their professional backgrounds have led them to advocate for sensible immigration reform and shared ideas on solutions that will keep us secure, respect the rule of law, be compassionate, and grow our economy.

 

From the “BUSINESS” perspective, speakers and attendants highlighted the critical role that immigrants play in Texas’ booming economy and how sensible immigration policy can benefit all Texans by strengthening our state’s dynamic workforce.

Jeff Moseley, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, stressed the important role immigration policy has in making sure that open jobs in Texas’ economy are filled.

“There’s no doubt that Texas is a robust economy. At one time we were growing more than all the other 49 states in the union, that’s called the Texas Miracle. To have that kind of a robust economy, we depend on a workforce, we depend on all the skills in a workforce, those entry level workers all the way up to the highly skilled workers. Jobs are growing, but to restrict the workers coming in is definitely going to have a chill on our economy,” he said.

Moseley also said that as it gets harder and harder for businesses to find workers, service at places like restaurants is going to get worse. Because Texas’ unemployment of 3.4% is so low, businesses are raising wages and still cannot find Americans to do the jobs that need to get done. “In our business, TAB, we have members that are dying to find workers to come and help do the jobs that must be done. There’s a critical shortage of drivers right now, and in some regions of the state, a driver can get paid $10,000 a month as a base pay plus overtime, and they still can’t find enough workers to take care of moving goods to market and operating a truck. Five percent is full unemployment; there’s a huge demand in a white hot robust economy to find workers and yet we’re seeing restrictions on the ability to bring in immigrant workers,” he said.

Moseley lamented on the role that politics has played in impeding progress on immigration reform. He blamed both parties for using immigration as a “political football,” for whatever their purposes are. “One group would say let’s just solve immigration piecemeal, let’s just deal with this one issue. The other group says ‘well you can’t just deal with one issue when the entire system is broken, you have to have a holistic approach.’ That’s what you hear this administration saying: ‘We’re ready to solve DACA and H1B visas, but we also want to make sure that there is a solution to asylum seekers and people who are putting pressure on international boundaries, and we need a wall,’ so that’s where this discussion is coming to grips,” he said.

Moseley explained that a lack of immigration reform has encouraged illegal immigration by creating a pull factor in the form of open jobs needing to be filled with no viable legal option for immigrants to come and fill them. “We really see the value in having a full immigration reform that would recognize a realistic need for workers. Even some of the past bills have had artificially low numbers and don’t really reflect the true opportunity and need for our economy. That forces employers to look around for workers, and it creates a market where workers are finding a way into that market and they’re getting here by any means necessary,” he said.  

As far as what immigration legislation he would like to see, Moseley said in an interview with TexasGOPVote that it should be a wholesale solution that includes a way to process the 11 million undocumented immigrants here today.

“It would almost make sense to have a deferred adjudication…There are very commonsense solutions to how you keep these 11 million that are contributing vitally to our economy. Let them pay their fines. They were encouraged to come in by a broken system that both parties allowed to remain broken,” he said.

Moseley also highlighted the need for a legislative solution to protect DACA recipients from being deported following a potential Supreme Court ruling that rescinds the program. “With DACA we’ve got workers who have been trained in some of the finest schools on the face of the earth with public taxpayer dollars, so why would we lift up a quarter million of our highly trained workers and give them to another economy to compete against us? That makes no sense,” he said.  

In response to a question about Stan Marek, CEO of MAREK’s, proposal to “ID and Tax” undocumented immigrants, Executive Director of the National immigration forum Ali Noorani explained how current policy provides for worker misclassification that allows unscrupulous employers to undermine those who are playing by the rules, and praised Marek’s leadership in immigration policy advocacy.  

“Stan Marek has been one of the great champions of immigration reform in Texas and nationally for many years. He looks at this from the perspective of an employer who is trying to play by the rules. It’s an extremely important perspective because right now in the current system, the only one who is winning is the unscrupulous employer because they are able to push down the wages and protections of the undocumented worker, the documented worker, the American worker working alongside them, and the employer who is paying the proper taxes, payroll taxes and providing benefits,” Noorani said.  

“The push coming from many in the industry is instead of putting the onus on the immigrant, also put the responsibility on the business owner. Through those types of reform, you’re leveling the playing field so that every worker is able to compete for the same job at the same wage, and every employer is able to compete for the same worker based on the fact that they’re all paying taxes. It’s great that there is a solution being advocated from the business perspective that’s not absolving them of any responsibility,” Noorani added.

Noorani also said that e-verify would be a good policy to hold employers accountable, but that it must be paired with a method to legalize the undocumented workforce. “E-verify without legalizing the undocumented workforce would decimate agriculture, construction, and the service sectors, so It’s a good solution if it’s paired with another good solution,” he said.

Laura Goldberg, Center for Houston’s Future Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Communications, explained the critical role immigrants will play in Houston’s future economy.

“We need immigrants to keep up with Houston’s demand for workers. The native born population is simply not growing fast enough to meet the demand for workers that the Houston economy needs for its economy to continue to thrive. If we want our economy to continue to grow at the same prosperous rate, we simply need immigrants to keep that up… If we look at projections through 2036, the industries that will be the most reliant on future immigration are the same industries that are heavy drivers for the greater Houston economy: healthcare, professional services, energy, construction, all key sectors,” Goldberg said.

The event also included a presentation of Episode 9 of the Rational Middle of Immigration docu-series. The Rational Middle of Immigration is a short film series by director Gregory Kallenberg and Loren Steffy that seeks to inform the general public, shape sensible policy solutions, and create a deeper understanding of this important issue by focusing on the challenges facing the country through the eyes of immigrants, municipalities, business owners, and citizens on the ground who find themselves confronted with this issue. 

In Episode 9: Out of the Shadows: Undocumented in America, experts on immigration highlighted the issues surrounding the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in our country and the integral role they play in our workforce and economy.

 

From the “BIBLES" perspective, Christian faith leaders in attendance highlighted the mandate from God to serve and love our neighbors and how scripture pertains to immigration today.

David Smith, Executive Director of the Austin Baptist Association, said that the most important thing is for Christians to uphold God’s mandate to love and serve thy neighbor. “Rather than getting bogged down into all the theological positions…we say, ‘How are you serving to love your neighbor,’” Smith said.

“What we have found is that when they go and they serve and they love their neighbor, it seems to help to melt a little bit of the dogmatic harsh positions so often taken by folks. They begin to realize that these people have faces and names… I think it’s in that context of faith and prayer that God can lead us to solutions in moving forward on this issue. ” Smith added.  

Travis Wussow, Vice-President for Public Policy and General Counsel for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, highlighted the Christian theme of restitution and how it relates to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US.

“Restitution is a legal and biblical concept. Throughout the Old Testament law, this idea of paying or doing something in exchange for a wrong that was committed is a way of balancing things out. This exists throughout our American legal system but it’s an Old Testament concept. At the southern border we have two signs: one that says ‘keep out” and another which says ‘help wanted’. Surely that should inform the way we think about the degree to which the law was broken. The law has been broken, we can’t and shouldn’t ignore that, but as an electorate we can also come together and say we can provide a way for them to come forward and make themselves right because right not there isn’t a way to do that,” Wussow said.

Matthew Soerens, U.S. Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief and the National Coordinator for the Evangelical Immigration Table, highlighted what the Bible says about immigrants and how it relates to the debate on immigration in American today.

“On the question of what is most informing your views on the topic of immigration, only 12% of evangelical Christians said the Bible. That’s a big problem because as Evangelicals we would say the Bible is the top authority for everything. Wherever we’re getting our information from, it’s too infrequently from the Bible,” Soerens said.

Soerens explained that in the early stages of life, Jesus himself was a refugee. In chapter two of Matthew, Joseph is warned that Herod is coming to kill all the little boys in Bethlehem. Joseph is told to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. In other words, Jesus can identify with the flight of a refugee because as a young child he was forced to flee his country due to persecution, he said.  

“Another biblical theme is that we see God has this particular concern for those who are vulnerable. Three groups of people whom we see mentioned repeatedly in the Old Testament are the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner. God says on multiple occasions ‘I care for these people, I will protect them, it is part of my character to do so, but also to the people of Israel, you shall protect them as well,’” Soerens said.

“In the Old and New Testament, there is also the command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. The first instance of this is Leviticus 19:18 and later in Leviticus 19:33-34. ‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt,’” Soerens added, pointing out that neighbor does not just apply to those who were born in the same country as us. 

“The neighbor whom we are called to love cannot be defined narrowly to just those who share our nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or legal status. Our call to love our neighbor is very broad,” Soerens added.

Soerens also acknowledged that we have biblical principles that guide us to respect the law. In regards to people who came to America illegally, he said amnesty is not a valid solution. However, he said he and the Evangelical Immigration Table believe there should be a restitutionary process that requires undocumented immigrants to come forward and pay a fine in order to get right with the law.

 

From the “BADGES” perspective, members of law enforcement in attendance stressed the importance of community policing and how recent rhetoric and legislation like SB4 that allows police to question people about their immigration status have made immigrants afraid of communicating with police, which ultimately makes Texas less safe.

“A community is much safer if people run to law enforcement instead of away from them. Since SB4, that ability to build trust in the community has gotten much harder….What it’s done is spread fear throughout the immigrant community, and it made it much more difficult for them to come to law enforcement for help. When they’re a victim of a crime, they’re too afraid to come talk to us,” said Sherriff of Travis County Sally Hernandez in an interview with TexasGOPVote.

“We should be working towards public safety. That requires being out in the community and being able to talk…We have three unsolved homicides here in Travis County that happened in the immigrant community where no one is coming forward to talk to us because of the fear of deportation. US citizens may think ‘well that doesn’t affect me, I don’t live in that community,’ but the truth of the matter is, we have immigrants in our community that are witnesses to crimes that happen to US citizens and they’re not going to come forwards and talk about that either. It has an impact on everyone,” Hernandez said.

Police Chief Andy Harvey of Palestine, Texas echoed Hernandez’ sentiments. “When we have people who are speaking and are not in fear, we have a safer community. It’s our responsibility to reach out and make sure that we’re building that trust…When people don’t have to live in fear, we’re all better for it,” he said. 

 

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