(VIDEO) Houston Immigration Summit: The Cost Savings of Implementing Immigration Reform - Part 3
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 3 from the Summit. Speakers in this segment include Juliet K. Stipeche, shareholder of Nagorny & Stipeche, P.C.; Marcia Nichols, Immigration Summit Co-Chair and member of Bridging America Task Force; and a question and answer session.
Juliet Stipeche: There is nothing more important to our states future tax base and well being than having a highly educated work force. An educated populous improves the states economy, is more productive, and is more socially responsible and civically engaged. While the alternative presents far reaching consequences that affects every single one of us. For instance, a high-school dropout is actually four times more likely to be jobless than a college graduate, 47 times as likely to be jailed than a college graduate, and has a mortality rate that is 3 times higher than a person who has more than a high school education. It’s truly a matter of life or death, and there must be a more well developed understanding of how an undocumented child’s legal status, well being, and educational opportunity are deeply intertwined. How many undocumented student are there in Texas today? Well, we don’t know the exact number, any estimate at federal, state and local costs associated with public education from K-12 is a best an educated guess. This is because federal law currently prohibits the questioning of legal status of children from K-12. This is based on a case, Plyler v. Doe, which arose under circumstances in the state of Texas. In 1975, the Texas legislature actually prohibited the use of state funds to educate undocumented immigrant children. Local school boards responded outright by banning undocumented children, and in some cases, such as in Plyler, they charged children a 1000 dollars tuition per year to attend. Families took the civil rights case all the way up to the Supreme Court, and in a 5 4 decision the U.S. Supreme Court decided that withholding funds from local school districts for undocumented children and authorizing local school boards to deny access, violated the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. The court reasoned that this type of behavior, this type of legislation was actually creating a class, or cast, out of undocumented children, which the 14th amendment was designed to abolish. So based on the foregoing all children in the U.S., regardless of legal status, are entitled to K-12 education. In 2009 rough estimates for the state of Texas said that there were approximately a 120,000 to 150,000 undocumented immigrant attending Texas public schools. This comprised approximately 3% of the total public state school population. Costing us about 1 billion dollars per year. With the recession there have been reports of school districts around the country that have been checking the immigration status of students attempting to enroll in schools. This has resulted in a chilling effect, and on top of that states such as Arizona, and more recently Alabama, passed what is now known as one of the most draconian, harshest, ant-immigrant bills in the United States. On education, Alabama’s house bill 56 requires public schools to ask children who are enrolling in K-12 for a U.S. birth certificate. If they don’t have one their record is flagged. This same law also provides that school officials can report students and their parents who are presumed unlawfully present to the federal government. It also bans undocumented students from enrolling in any state college or university. Local reports from the state of Alabama say that after the law was passed children were coming to school crying and fearful. Some families withdrew their children from schools while other children never returned. As this case winds through the courts system it remains unclear what will happen to these undocumented children. Will the children be discriminated against because of their legal status? Will their parents be deported if they show up for a field-trip? How can a child attain a quality education if they have to live in perpetual fear that their family can be torn apart? How does a child feel being targeted as a criminal at such a young tender age? One story that I read actually quoted a child saying, “I’m a student, not a criminal.” Hateful and divisive legislation such as these have far reaching consequences on the emotional health and well being of our children and community. For instance in 2009 the world heath organization conducted a study on the mental health, resilience, and inequality, and found overwhelming evidence that inequality is a key cause of stress and exacerbates the stress of coping with socio-economic inequality. Chronic stress also influences and has a very negative affect on physical and mental health. Many undocumented children, including here in Houston, live in underground communities that are insolent, fearful and detached from the larger community. When I walked these beautiful halls and saw this campus often times I would think about the community that I grew up in...inaudible... which was an area full of recent immigrants and many of my neighbors and friends were undocumented. As I walk these halls and see the wonderful opportunity that was presented to me, I often times thought about my friends and colleagues that did not have the same opportunity. Undocumented children definitely live in a state where they are neither here nor there. They may be feeling different. They may be discriminated against. They may have no sense of ownership in this country, and in the old country. The child is exposed to the tremendous opportunity that this country has to offer. First generation undocumented children and second generation U.S. citizens, who have a parent, or parents that lack legal status, live in perpetual fear that a loved one could be deported at any time. Without legal protection undocumented families are subject to exploitation, and studies have described undocumented children as the most vulnerable group in the United States. So if parents are fearful of authorities, unfamiliar with the educational system, must work long and hard hours, and not be able to spend much time on their children, then we have undocumented children who must navigate through a public education system, largely on his or her own. It’s difficult, extraordinarily difficult for a child to gain ownership and appreciation of the importance of his or her educational experience with these circumstances. And if the parents are afraid to visit schools, demand improvements, volunteer services, offer suggestions, and hold the school district accountable, the entire school district and community suffers. It’s critical for us to address the unique issues of undocumented children. For instance, just by way of example, on October, 27th 2011, HISD identified 60,226 as English language learners out of our 202,000 student population. 96 of these ELL student speak Spanish speak Spanish as there first language, but the most troubling statistic that I have been presented with is that the drop out rate for HISD’s ELL students is currently at 39%, which is an absolute crisis level. Latinos also comprise HISD’s largest minority group, and comprise approximately 61.7 of the student population. Statistics tell us that Latino children live in poverty more than any other racial or ethnic group, and are more than 2/3rds, more than 2/3rds of Latino children living in poverty are children of immigrant parents. Poverty also has an unfortunate and extraordinarily positive influence on the achievement gap, as 41% percent of Latinos age 20 or older in the United States do not have a regular high school diploma. Studies have said that the largest and fastest growing minority group, Latinos, are performing at academic levels that soon could put out entire society at risk as these, as these young people are consigned to a permanent underclass.. However, there is hope in terms of legislation, positive legislation that has been passed in the state of Texas, including the Texas dream act which passed in 2001, which offers undocumented students the opportunity to attend state college, colleges and universities and pay resident rates. However, one young person stated, I graduated from college and yet even with a degree I still feel invalid in a lot of ways. It doesn’t matter if I have a doctorate from an Ivy League school, I’m still not legally able to serve …inaudible… Take for instance the story of Amy Chen, She graduated from high school, finished college, entered law school, and was living the American dream. Their parents brought her to the U.S from Taiwan as a small child. She aspired to be a lawyer, but her dream came to a standstill when she discovered that she was to submit a background check to sit for the state bar exam.
Devastated, Amy dropped out of law school. This story demonstrates the example of why comprehensive immigration reform is needed. Amy wants to give back to the U.S. She wants to be an attorney with that type of professional degree she could earn more, buy more, and pay more in taxes. However, without the opportunity to become a pertinent resident, she continues to live in the shadows. So how can students achieve the American dream without the culmination of years of hard work and commitment ending with citizenship? The current case in law creates hope without opportunity, triumph without reward. So it’s difficult for many undocumented students as well as their family members to buy into a system and the end result remains disenfranchisement. In light of self-interest demands us to use a more positive approach, using education as a guide. And so I ask that we all support the passage of the U.S. federal dream act, and also laws and legislation that can help Texas build our community to meets the needs of today. Thank you.
Q: What does it mean to say that we can implement these suggestions of IDing and taxing the undocumented immigrants who are here; that we can implement those procedures without waiting for federal government and federal action are the things, the action we can take at the state and even at the city that can make a big difference.
A:(Stan Marek): The issue of taxing, first of all IDing all the undocumented and taxing them in Texas is a sensible approach. I think everyone can agree with that. We are not going to deport 11 million people nor 1.7 million from Texas, so we have to do something. Yes, will it be challenged in Washington, of course. The department of labor will challenge it, the department of justice, but I do think that if our governor and our state elected officials, as well as our national officials, especially our senators and congressmen support this in Austin and the capitol, remember we, to get an immigration bill through congress, we’ve been trying for years. I’ve roamed the halls with Beto and Charles for the last six years talking to our elected officials in Washington, and it’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen unless Texas takes the leadership, and that means Senator Cornyn, Senator Kay Bailey, and our congressmen, and it’s such a political issue right now that it may not happen, if it doesn’t happen, think what’s going to happen to Texas. Those immigrants in Alabama, in Georgia, they’re coming here because we have jobs, and the less enforcement you have by our governmental agencies, the more likelihood that they are going to be exploited. They are going to work for cash. They are not going to have insurance. They are not going to have workman’s comp when they get hurt and it’s only going to get worse, so we as Texans need to do something about it. I think if we all got behind the concept of IDing whose here and taxing them it would solve a lot of issues. The Sheriff’s department, you know whose here, hospital district, they would know whose here, schools, and people would have legal status, they could come out of the underground economy, they could come out of the shadows, they could report claims. Just remember, with 400,000 just in Houston, how many people are not going to have driver’s license over the next 4 years. If you go in to renew that driver’s license, you go to have that social security card, and if you don’t, you’re not going to get one. So imagine 400,000 people driving around the city without a driver’s license, without insurance. What’s that going to do to our city? So, I don’t think we’ll get an immigration bill through congress. So, I think we as Texans have to take the leadership to push to I.D. whose here and tax them.
(Larry Kellner adds on to answer): Stan mentioned that we’re tracking people for the state, and the Partnership has done some research on that. One of the key issues is that good news isn’t always great news. In our economy here, we were the last into the recession. Houston, last October, already passed a total jobs, and these are the laws that you can actually track, where we were. We were the first major metro area in the U.S. to be post recovery and actually back to growing jobs at the level before the 08’ recession. That is not unnoticed around the country, and so that growth in jobs is absolutely attracting a huge influx of people who believe that we’ve got jobs of both documented and undocumented which is just exacerbating the problem.
Q: What is the percentage of undocumented in Houston who are not of Hispanic or of Latino origin?
A3: (Rubio): It’s not strictly Latino or Hispanic “problem”. If you go to Southwest Houston, to me it looks like Ellis Island, people coming from all over the world. It’s our Ellis Island. There are more Chinese and Asians coming in. There are Eastern Europeans coming in. We even got a case of a boy from Africa who took a freighter over to Central America and worked his way up. That’s not uncommon I understand. But what percentage? I don’t know.
Q: Illegal, undocumented immigrants do pay some taxes, and the question is what percentage of undocumented immigrants are not paying taxes and what happens to that money that is taken out by employers, and what are we talking about when we say ID them and tax them?
A(Beto Cardenas): When we look at the state of Texas and we look at anyone of us in this room, everybody here, when they fill their car up with gasoline, might think it’s too high, when they buy a pack of cigarettes that maybe they shouldn’t be smoking, when they buy anything at the grocery store, that is a sales tax that is put on. We are a consumption based taxed economy in the state of Texas. When you buy property you pay a tax. When you buy a car you pay a tax. When you register your vehicle you pay a tax. All taxes are collected in this state regardless of legal status. However, you brought up a good question, which is, payroll taxes. Individuals working a cash economy and do not necessarily report their full income, that income can not be taxed at the federal level. State level, it’s one that is based on consumption regardless of whether you own property; rent an apartment, that tax is paid.
(Dr. Stephen Klineberg adds to answer): So the answer is many of the taxes are in fact paid, and when social security benefits are withheld, that’s actually a net-benefit to the system because …inaudible…
(Larry Kellner adds to answer) Right, but even on the employee side, the Texas workforce commission, we think they’re short 30-35 million a year simply in undocumented workers. So while we do collect the sales tax, in many cases, whether it’s through ...inaudible…the property taxes, or ownership, you get a lot of taxes, there is still a piece, and again the Partnership estimates that total we are missing between federal and state a billion and 4 a year that ought to go into the system, and there’re surely services needed on the other side. So again, it’s just the breakdown of the system …inaudible…
Q: What would motivate an undocumented movement to come forward and try to get recognition given the current situation? How do we make that step? Where do you go from here? How do we create a system in Texas that will in fact encourage large numbers, if not all, undocumented immigrants to come forward and acquire that identification and opportunity to have a driver’s license?
A:(Stan Marek): I feel that if we had a system where people could get a ...inaudible... driver’s license, not one like you and I have, and we would have to visit with the department of Homeland Security to give these people legal status to work, and this would be a new, innovative sensible approach. But if a person knew, who is undocumented, that they could get a driver’s license, be IDed, that information go into E-verification system, a part of Homeland Security, and then the employer, I’m an employer, knows that when I get his driver’s license, I check it with E-verification, he is who he says he is, I pay payroll taxes, I provide workman’s comp if he’s hurt, I think you’d have a lot of employers that would embrace the decision. I for one would certainly embrace it. Many employers are just waiting for the knock on the door for a group called ICE, Immigration Custom Enforcement, to come and do what is called an I-9 audit. This is happening everyday. Over 2,000 audits are going on in this country right now. When they come in and they audit your I-9’s they give you the no-matches of the people who are here illegally. That person has 60 days to correct their status, and if they don’t, you terminate them. They are not deported. They are not taken away. You terminate them as an employer and they go to work for somebody else, usually for cash. It’s a broken system, and the only way we can fix it is with federal legislation or a sensible approach in the state of Texas. Get back to ID whos here, and tax them. Sure there’ll be legal obstacles in doing so, but it makes sense, and I think when the governor returns to the state, there are good people who will visit with him and present this idea. And the more people that talk about it, the more churches, the more non-profits, the more businesses that support the idea of IDing and taxing, the more likelihood, that we can get this done. And I think we as a state, owe it to the people of our state to give it our very best effort because there is very little we can do in Washington to impact sensible reform. In my opinion, It’s not going to happen. It’s a big problem for Texas and a big problem for California, and a big problem for the border states, but it’s not a big problem for the rest of the country, and I just personally don’t feel like it’s going to get to the top of the list anytime soon, regardless. Even if the president wants to do it, he’s still got the congress, senate, and house that has to pass the bill.
(Rubio adds to answer): I think that Stan makes a very good argument, but I think that’s only half the argument. If you are going to be paying taxes, what are the benefits? There are many undocumented workers with false credentials who have presented them to employers, who have been paying into social security, Medicare, who will never draw those dollars out. And that is not new/doing. At one time there were Braceros, these were temporary workers who came from Mexico. I believe there is still money left that the government collected from the Braceros, and they never saw any benefit from it. So we have to look at the other side as well.
Q: How do we take the heat out of the issue? What are the practical ways to debunk the myths that surround all these questions about immigration?
Beto Cardenas: The best way is really to educate ourselves so that we can educate our community. One of the myths that many people say is that we have a magnet here, a job magnet that is tied to our welfare system, that individuals come to this country illegally without documentation or inspection at a port of entry do so because they’re here to get all of the public benefits…listed out an array of social programs where no undocumented immigrant can qualify, so you cannot get food stamps, you cannot get aide to a family with dependent children, you cannot get housing assistance. There are an array of issues you do not have access to the extent that we as stewards of our economy, stewards of our community, stewards of our family can educate ourselves and also know the facts so that we can educate others.
Larry Kellner: I would just add on that I think from the business side community, let’s get people putting some solution on the table because I think the options become a lot clearer. Right now we’ve been in a do nothing mode for the last 15-20 years, and I think that as somebody said earlier, we’re not going to deport 11 million people, so we’ve got to come up with some pragmatic solution, some sensible immigration reform that gets the system to be able to function again or we’re going to have greater problems long term.
Rubio: I also walked the halls of Congress and the Legislature during one very stormy session. I was escorted into the inner office where the elected representative, not the staff person, as important as they are, but the actual elected representative, and he showed me two stacks. One was a little stack and one was a big stack of letters and postcards. He said see that little stack down there, that’s people who are asking me to support immigration reform. See that big stack, in fact, that twin stack there, they’re against it, which way do you think I’m going to vote? The political model is cracked right now, it’s not working very well. We need a new community model that knows how to put pressure on the political model to make it work with sensible solutions for immigration reform.
Juliet Stipeche: Looking at the statistics and saying that we have a growing young population that can continue to sustain our country and community for the next 20-30 years if they’re educated, if we invest, if we provide a road toward opportunity, to becoming a permanent resident. If we don’t, then we’re moving toward a desegregated community in which, like the US Supreme Court said, one that will be toward a stratified caste system. That makes no sense, and so if we learn about these issues and about the demographics, and how this will seriously impact every single one of our lives, it really is something that should motivate us to make a solution today that will help us for the next 40-50 years.
Q: Can you comment on the significance of the decision of the Obama Administration to ease the ability of illegal immigrants who have family members to get green cards?
Rubio: And by the way, that was the original intent of secure communities, not a way to just chase off all of the undocumented immigrants, it was dangerous individuals, it was to focus on them and get them deported, not the plumber, not the homebuilder, but that dangerous individual. Sometimes we forget that. Beto Cardenas: The post rules will be printed in the federal register. It’ll take some time to administer. I think one of the things we also have to balance is, we say that we can’t deport 11 million individuals. This administration has done a heck of a job getting them here, and if you give this president 4 times more money and another term, he will deport 11 million people at a rate of half a million a year, which is what he has been doing. So keep that in perspective. This is a targeted approach on both sides, but it is one where the lines have been drawn.
(Dr. Stephen Klineberg inquires): But the president is trying to make a distinction between people who have committed crimes to be deported and those who…
Beto Cardenas: I would hope so, but I think that remains to be seen. We’ve seen cases of legal citizens being deported to foreign countries and being found 15 months later being separated from their parents. These aren’t made up. We see issues of family members of soldiers who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan being deported, so I think there is criticism on both sides of the isle that is ..inaudible..
Q (Audience member): I agree with you on all you said about education. I see it as one of the biggest factors facing our state and our nation. If we produce a class of students who do not have the opportunity to learn English when they are young it will only add to the problems which have been stated by all of the economic experts and all other experts. My question is relative to the dream act. The young people who are ambitious and who have lived here because their parents brought them, however the dream act failed to pass, can she not come back to the United States when she is 18, and apply for citizenship in the normal way, or the approved way by law? Is there any reason why those young people cannot return and fill out the forms and fill out the process which I would certainly recommend as being very advantageous for our whole society.
Stephen Klineberg: Do we have policy that really makes that possible?
Beto Cardenas: Yes, in 1996 congress passed legislation, the president signed it, it was bipartisan, and said that anybody in this country who has been here without documentation, that could be a visa lapse, that could be coming in without inspection, is barred for ten years from coming in on a legal basis. So that is the policy hindrance that we have right now. That is what needs to be addressed.
Stephen Klineberg: And then coming in on a legal basis also means waiting in line for however long it takes…. inaudible
Juliet Stipeche adds: And to think about the way that was just described to say that family has to wait 17 years before they have the opportunity to be together again, its just, the years are just so astounding that its…inaudible
Dr. Stephen Klineberg: And you got to believe that rationality will allow us, at some point, some how, we’ll come together as a great nation and recognize what is in our collective self-interest, and what sort of policies we need to put in place to make this country succeed at it meets with all of the new tremendous competition that is there….inaudible
Q (Audience member): I was wondering if you could comment on the demographic shifts that are happening in Latin America and the actual impact that’s going to have in terms of migration. I was just reading that there was a net-zero migration from Mexico to the United States, so I’m sure you are aware of these changes yourself, so what is the impact that that is going to have on the United States, particularly here in Houston area as we start to see a climbing immigration from Latin America to the United States and how can we use that in terms of putting some pressure to make some policy changes?
Dr. Stephen Klineberg: That’s another piece of why there is some optimism now. The pressure of large numbers of illegal immigrants coming into our country and pressing up against our opportunities that we have is much, much less. There has been a significant drop in the number of undocumented immigrants in this country today. The fertility rates in Mexico dropped from 6.3 to 2.1 in Mexico, so in Mexico, and Brazil and other countries might be beginning to develop some good opportunities themselves. This is not as critical a problem for the next ten years as it was the last ten, and there is some real opportunity to say now, let’s just, meanwhile, we have theses 11 million who are here, many of them have for 15, 20 years, who are committed to the communities, who are making positive contributions, but continue to face terrible, unnecessary issues in their own lives, maybe it’s time to start funding a way to go rational. Any additional comments?
Deacon Joe Rubio: I said that the political model is cracked. What we need is a new model and it’s represented here. We have worked the social justice side very actively, but we needed to come together with the business community, we need to come together with the academic, and we need a community organized that is in favor of immigration reform, that is well educated about this issue, and is willing, again, to take action.
Marcia Nichols: (Closing statements/conclusion): The thoughtful gathering of information, is in my opinion, the basic requirement of responsible citizenship. If we are to continue to be the inventors of our social landscape, we must continuously choose to judiciously access the messages with which we are so often bombarded. We suffer from half-truth overload. The ability to discern what rings true and what is a convenient sound bite, or a have truth, should never elude us. I know each and everyone of you here today are willing participants in the mammoth task that we have before us. I here almost everyday from friends, from people that you talk to in the grocery store, whatever are particular venues of our daily activity, wherever we are taken, that the problems are so big, the system is so broken. “Ugh, politicians, there’s nothing we can do.” You know there is no power in being a cynic. I decided years ago that cynicism is the least flattering form of human existence. It takes no energy. A cynic, to me, is an individual who has chosen to become an intellectually and emotionally drained individual. The role is easy. There’s no easier role, and Theodore Roosevelt, one of our nation’s greatest presidents said that, “Critic, and the person who is unwilling to get in the arena, should hold no clout.” I takes nothing to criticize or find fault, but I believe that creative ideas, and collaborative effort have always been the raw materials from which the best America has been built. And history proves, and the winds of change prove, that the reconfiguring, and is which we are doing today, we are reconfiguring information, to connect with our greater self interest and with our long term vision, for if not a better country, certainly a better state and a better city, and we can do this. We have the ability to make the changes. So you’ve heard today and our objective today has been to share factual information regarding undocumented residents, and to confront the irresponsible fiscal realities associated with our continuing to not pursue a more humane and more rational approach toward undocumented workers. Our goal is successfully navigating this societal moment, is an opportunity to harness our human potential, and to envision and to create new vistas for the next generation. At 58 years of age I often look at myself and think, as a child of the 60’s, are we leading this world in a better place. The winds of change have brought in to our moment an opportunity that we cannot afford, fiscally, or emotionally to avoid. Courage is that small daily act of speaking the truth. There is a power, and there is an ability to ignite, and I would even risk saying, we hear the word, it’s so easy to foment dissent. I don’t think we are doing anything less today than to foment rational, cumulative, collaborative effort. Can you foment that? Let’s try it. Developing an affective identification and taxation plan for Texas is going to benefit everyone. It’s the right thing to do and it’s the right time to do it. The how depends on what we decide to do when we leave this room, and I am sure that each one of knows and has taken a firm stand for what we believe in, in the past, and each one of us comes with our own sphere of influence. Each of us has the responsibility to respond to those who may “mean to tell the truth” but who are not telling the truth regarding immigration, and at some level it is through no fault of their own. We all know that at times misinformation gets repeated, and repeated, and repeated, until it brings us some undocumented truth, and that is getting us in trouble. You never hear the word statesman anymore. And rarely do we see our political leadership acting in what, in my fifth grade civics class would have defined as a statesman like manner. I believe that we as citizens can be the “statesmen” that we a yearning to have. Together this is where you will, hopefully you will seize our invitation to action, to help us reframe the discussion regarding undocumented workers. We believe we can replace inaction with creative solutions and in the process we can reclaim the authenticity and the higher ground of our civic, and best civic selves. We need to create the path. Texas has an opportunity, and maybe we need to work to help our elected officials see the opportunities that exist for them. There should be no fear in doing the right thing. There should be no fear in creating a vision for a state that could be the model that the rest of our country benefits from.