(VIDEO) Houston Immigration Summit: The Cost Savings of Implementing Immigration Reform - Part 1
On January 10th, a summit called the Immigration Summit: The Cost of Savings of Implementing Immigration Reform was hosted at Rice University in Houston, Texas. The Immigration Summit was sponsored by AJC (American Jewish Committee) and the Kinder Institute for Urban Research.
The event was held to discuss and deliberate the undocumented labor force in our community and its impact on education, health care, security, unemployment and loss of tax revenues. The AJC and Kinder Institutes states, "By providing the facts and separating the fears and fiction associated with the immigration issue, participants can respond effectively to both the challenges and the opportunities of todays immigrant experience."
Below is Part 1 of 3 videos from the Summit. Speakers in this segment include Mike Nichols - Bridging America Task Force; Randy Czarlinsky - Director, American Jewish Center Houston; Dr. Stephen Klineberg - Sociology Professor, Rice University; Larry Kellner - President, Emerald Creek Group and Former CEO, Continental Airlines.
Mike Nichols: Our current immigration system is completely broken, and causes millions of otherwise law abiding citizens to have broken the law because there are no current legal answers to the moral dilemmas that we face on a daily basis, such as what do you do when you find out the nanny, whom you trusted with your children, and who your children love is an undocumented worker? Or when you find an employee who has worked in your plant for more than a decade has a mismatched social security card? Interesting fact, did you know that there are less than 30,000 green cards available each year for workers from Mexico, that’s 30,000 each year for workers from Mexico to stay legally in the United States, and this includes family members as well as the actual workers. According to data compiled by Forbes magazine a 30 year old Mexican with a high-school education and “simply who lives in the U.S” playing by today’s rules and applying for a green card, that could mean waiting in line that stretches a 131 years.
Fact three, just because short-sided partisanship has crippled the U.S. congressman’s ability to solve any major problems, does not mean that Texas is unable to find its own solutions. Unlike Arizona and Alabama, that eventful, meaning politically popular, yet ineffective and mean-spirited immigration laws, Texas has creativity, the moral fiber, and the long-range vision to develop legislation in our citizen’s true self-interest. Today in my opinion, our governor, has the power with the stroke of a pen, to establish programs to document and tax undocumented workers. In bringing these hard-working Texans out of the shadow economy, while raising billions of immediate tax dollars. Ladies and gentlemen, we have so much to learn. Let us start today committed to separating the facts, from the fiction.
Randy Czarlinsky: How we got here, yesterday the Ford foundation announced for the third year in a row a half a billion dollar grant to the American Jewish Committee for its endeavors working on Latino Jewish relations as well as “substantiative”Immigration reform efforts. Houston was one of the first four cities in the United States, just over two years ago, where we brought together business leaders, faith leaders, educators, law-enforcement, and other stake holders, and it was the first time everybody sat in the same room to discuss the issues of immigration reform, and how to get there. And this is, as Stan Marek said, during the first meeting, it’s the first time all the stake holders sat around the table as opposed to just sitting with partnerships, sitting over at the “Pardons, Gardens” office with faith leaders, but really coming together, and today’s efforts representing all those areas of the cost-savings of implementing immigration reform are why we are here. The task-force created this idea over a year ago to have a summit to bring all of the stake holders together as well as to invite the community, and the only other group I want to recognize, city officials, the elected officials, we are home to the third largest consulate for the United States, and seeing this morning during the breakfast, there are a number of members of the consulate core. We’ve learned from the consulate core that aberration is a critical issue in a number of countries, in Europe, Asia, as they also take an influx, so a number of them are here today to learn what Houston is doing and looking at on the issue. It’s my pleasure to turn the program over to Dr. Kleinberg, and thank you all again for joining us.
Dr. Kleinberg: We come to bring something new to this summit, or at least to address a seven that are far too often ignored. We want to ask about the costs of a failure to repair a broken immigration system, and point to the savings that would accrue if we could institute sensible immigration reform, not amnesty, but a straightforward policy that would simply identify, document, and tax the undocumented immigrants who are here in Texas now. This is something we could implement without federal legislation, and would bring tremendous cost savings and hundreds of millions of dollars to the tax revenues of the city and the state. Estimated that there are what 11 million undocumented immigrants in America, 1.7 million in Texas, about 400,000 to 500,000 in the greater Houston metropolitan area. Why have so many people chosen to break our laws and come here illegally? The reasons are self-evident, for the past 30 years we have simply not allowed enough people to come here legally to do the jobs that this economy desperately needs to have done by people who desperately need to do them. We have simply not made that possible. Between 1492 and 1965 82% of all the human beings on the face of this planet who came to our shores came from Europe we were a mountain of European nationalities. We were operating for the last forty years of that period to 1924, 1965, under one of the most viciously waist less laws that the U.S. congress ever past, The National Origins Quota Act, to give preference to Europeans and overwhelmingly to Northern Europeans, the law was changed in 1965, opened the doors for the first time for non-Europeans to come to America in meaningful numbers, and the criteria would primarily be based on family beautification and secondarily on professional skills or refugee status. So if you are a Mexican worker with some skills in construction, or if you want to come here to work in agriculture, or in restaurants or in childcare and eldercare, but you have no immediate relatives in the U.S. and no special skills of any meaningful sort, and you just want to wait in line and try to come here legally, as Mike has reminded us already, there is virtually no line for you to “draw a turn”. If you don’t have relatives here, if you don’t have major connections, there is no number of years you can wait patiently in line to be allowed to come here legally. There are for no practical purposes no legal entry is possible for you at all, but meanwhile there are numerous employers in this country eager to hire you, especially because they can pay you less than minimum wages offer no health benefits or safety standards and even cheat you out of the wages you earn knowing that you are in no position to complain or go to any authorities for redress. Immoral and unworthy of the great people as this system is, and what it does to innocent men and women. What we hope to explore this morning is the question of what the policies are doing to the rest of us. What is the impact of these policies for us as ordinary, normal Texans, going about our daily business trying to support our families and trying to raise the taxes that are needed for the public good? What does it cost us in lost revenues from the 130,000 undocumented workers in the Houston economy, who are out of the system and don’t pay taxes? What does it cost us in funds and safety when our law enforcement agencies are diverted from the rest of the environment by having to hunt down people that pose no threat to anyone? What does it cost us in having to provide central social services to workers and families who would ordinarily qualify for federally funded programs, but are ineligible because of there status, and in desperate need, a need that we have to respond to? Why is that happening and how much does it cost us? What does it cost us in our effort to educate the next generation of Houstonians so they can be prepared for a viable future in high-tech knowledge economy of the 21st century, when so many children drop out of high school because they live in perpetual fear that their parents could be deported at any time, and they know that they themselves may well be denied the opportunity to work in this country even if they manage to graduate from high school and go on to college? We have assembled a really remarkable group of people here, who have agreed to come here and help us think through, and try to make quantitative and objective measures to what are the costs, and how do we measure those costs in these various areas?
Larry Kellner: One might wonder as you look at this and say immigration reform without question is a politically charged issue, why would the business community which often tends to shy away from politically charged issues, have for so long under the leadership of Charles Foster and Stan Marek and others at Greater Houston Partnership, really been such a strong advocate for sensible immigration reform. Why have we stepped out of that issue why did we take it, and I think you have to look back at the partnership’s mission. We are the chamber of commerce, we’re the economic development authority, we’re the foreign trade group, so all that got rolled together in the 80’s, and it will really very focus on a strong Houston makes a strong business community, a strong business community will lead to a stronger Houston. If you look at where we’re at, between 1980 and 2010 this area grew from 3 million people to 6 million people. It’s had tremendous growth. Between now and 2040 it’s expected to grow to 9 million people, and it only works, societies work and systems work only if everybody is kind of in the pool together, and everybody participates in making the system work, and unfortunately if you look, the Pew Hispanic Center is the leading authority in kind of working the models to say, if you look at the area and look at the jobs, how many of those are undocumented, and while their methodologies have changed over the years, if you look at Houston, the low-end, you would say there are 130,000, at the high-end you would say there are 250,000 undocumented people working. By their very nature, they are hard to track because they are undocumented. They’re often working not as employees but as 1099 contractors, but the way the structure is set up they undermine the whole system of what we need in tactical action and how business works and how it fits together, and so the partnership has long advocated for sensible immigration reform to figure out how do we make sure that anybody that is here earning dollars is contributing to the tax system and doing their part. If you look at those numbers, let’s take the low-end, and there is a white paper that we count as a partnership.
Well what you see is that if we start with the construction trade, that may be the largest part, but as you dig through it, it undermines a lot of parts of the economy to have people who aren’t part of the system, who aren’t working in the system, and it also undermines the tax structure and I think all of you have heard as a state and at the federal level where we are from revenues, so clearly you need that tax base, you need everybody contributing at every job, contributing that tax base who are going to live here and use the services, and we’ve got a system that actually works against that today, and so if you look at some numbers, you look at the white paper, the other headline number, 1.4 billion per year in taxes just in the Houston region, so let’s think about these two numbers for a second. 130,000 at the low-end, that’s 3 Minute-Made Parks, so just think of the crowds and the traffic every time you go to Minute-Made, think about filling that up three times every day, and all of the traffic coming in, that’s the amount of, that’s the size, it’s a big problem. This is not a small problem, the low-end instead it’s a very big issue. Then if you think about just the Houston region, just our ten county region, 1.4 billion federal and state tax dollars, primarily federal but also some state dollars, if you roll that up, every second of every day, while we’re sitting here of every second, that’s about Forty dollars… Forty dollars… Forty dollars, that’s unpaid tax dollars, not coming into the system, it’s a system that’s designed, not to allow for that. So if you go back to the partnership’s mission, we’re big believers, first of all the partnership has 2100 members, we are big believers that we are going to speak for our members, so we can take the position like we do on immigration reform, it’s with the support of our membership, saying hey we find a solution to fix the system. The partnership in general is policy focused. Why are we policy focused? Because we believe that’s the way you create long-term economic prosperity. All too often we are worried about measuring the next quarter or the next year. Partnerships takes a long-term views whether its immigration reform, whether it’s how the city ought to balance its own budget, whether it’s on education. We’ve taken a number of positions, but sensible immigration reform is on the top of that list. A number of things here, education, immigration reform, quality of life here, transportation, those core issues, because we believe it’s vital to find a solution to that, to make the system work for everybody, and we’ve got a system that’s broken. The system stays broken because it’s a politically charged issue, and people don’t want to look at it and actually have to compromise to find a solution. The partnerships view, it’s like any business issue, you can ignore the issue, that’s not going to fix the issue, and any business we know, you’ve got to step in, you’ve got to look at it. You’re not going to make everybody happy on every issue, but we’ve got a real problem, and again I cut back to the headline numbers. 130,000 to 250,000 undocumented workers going to work everyday in this region, and a billion four, forty dollars a second in taxes, not going into the system because we are not addressing the issue, and by the way it’s undermining the entire system when you have that, because people don’t put people as employees, they’re using them as contractors, we’ve got all kinds of issues with documentation. As Steve was mentioning in the beginning, people have employees, they’ve got all the proper paperwork, all of a sudden they find out it’s not a valid social security number, we’ve got a lot of challenges, we’ve got to find a way to fix the system, we’ve got find a way to make sure that every body who is here has a chance to contribute to the system. We can’t have a system that doesn’t allow you to do that. Partnerships has been a long-term reforming that. That’s our headline, and thank you for being here today.