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Immigration reform could mean billions in revenue for Texas, labor groups say

Monday, January 28, 2013

Changes are on the way for immigration reform. A bi-partisan group of eight senators have reached an agreement on the principles of sweeping legislation to rewrite the nation's immigration laws.

The final deal on immigration reform will be announced at a news conference Monday afternoon.

Senators want to accomplish four goals: Create a path of citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already here; reform the legal immigration system, including awarding green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees from an American university; create an effective employment verification system to ensure that employers do not hire illegal immigrants; and allow more low-skill workers into the country and allow employers to hire immigrants if they can demonstrate they couldn't recruit a U.S. citizen.

The plan also recommends strengthening our border enforcement by using more unmanned drones and hiring more border patrol agents, which senators and representatives from our state have long encouraged. But groups here in Houston say these reforms could also generate money for Texas.

Of the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. who could be affected by the immigration reform plan, more than 1.6 million reside in Texas. The plan would require undocumented immigrants to register with the federal government and pass criminal background checks to obtain "probationary legal status." After paying fines and back taxes, they'd be allowed to live and work in the U.S. legally.

A path to citizenship is something local labor and civil rights advocates say is long overdue.

"Once they start investing, you know paying taxes and doing all the different things that they haven't been able to do before, having a job without fear and participating in the community, so they should participate in every way including a path to citizenship," said Elsa Caballero, Service Employees International Texas Director.

The plan also establishes special protection for those working in the agricultural business, in which immigrants account for 80 percent all field labor. Along with being allowed to reside here legally, some of those workers could qualify to become citizens.

"I think that the whole immigration debate needs to be focused also on economics. We know that a crucial sector of course is agriculture, particularly in Texas it's one of the areas that we have a big flow of immigrants where almost 80 percent of them are undocumented. So we think that there needs to be a focused effort to legalize these individuals," said Carlos Duarte with Mi Familia Vota of Houston.

Obtaining a green card would require paying fines and back taxes, but applicants must also learn English and American civics, and provide proof of employment. After that, they would be placed behind applicants with cases already pending.

Some labor groups say that if the reform passes, the tax issue alone could rake in $4.1 billion in revenue for Texas.

Those who came here as children with their parents would not face the same requirements. There are also exceptions for those earning post-graduate degrees in fields like science, math, technology and engineering; those residents would receive green cards after graduating.

We've contacted our Texas senators to see what they think of their fellow senators' proposal, however so far neither Senator Ted Cruz nor Senator John Cornyn has released a statement or been available for comment.

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We want to know your opinion: Do you think our nation's immigration policy needs to be changed? If so, how? Join the conversation on our Facebook page here.


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