immigrationEvery politician will tell you that they want to secure the border.  In fact, it would be difficult to find anyone who is against securing our border.  But, “securing the border” is a nebulous concept and no one can really explain how we could objectively declare the physical border secure. Which is why it is such a popular theme among Republican politicians running for re-election in “safe” districts.

These politicians have to walk a fine line when it comes to immigration. On one hand, the business community in Texas likes the steady stream of labor provided by undocumented immigrants.  On the other hand, voters want immigration laws enforced. So, to appease Texas businesses these politicians refuse to mandate that private businesses use E-Verify, a free electronic employment verification system managed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Nine states, including Arizona and Louisiana, mandate its use for all employers. Texas only requires it for public employers. At the same time that Texas legislators are refusing to use this free and available federal system to curb illegal hiring of undocumented immigrants in the private sector, these same politicians vociferously blame the federal government for failing to satisfactorily “secure” the border, (even though President George W. Bush poured at least a billion of federal tax dollars into “securing” the Texas border), and for refusing to enforce immigration laws that, if enforced, would cost taxpayers an estimated $400 billion-$600 billion more.

Moreover, when our state representatives are not honest about the causes of complex state-wide problems, it is not long before undocumented immigrants will be blamed for them.  For example, studies show that undocumented immigrants pay more in taxes and fees than they receive in services, such as education and healthcare.  But, the perception among many Texas taxpayers is that undocumented immigrants are receiving services for free.  While it is true that school districts and hospital districts are finding it difficult to make ends mean, the revenue shortage they are experiencing is not due to lack of taxes being collected from the undocumented, it is due to the fact that the taxes the undocumented pay are not being funneled back to the entities that provide the services.

Indeed, according to Texas Monthly, “[i]n 2009 the Department of Homeland Security estimated that there were 1.68 million undocumented immigrants living in Texas.”* In 2006, the Texas comptroller reported that “undocumented immigrants paid $424.7 million more to the state in taxes and fees than the state spent on them in education (by far the biggest expense), health care, and incarceration.” Id.  But, the report also found that “[l]ocal governments and hospitals were nearly $1 billion in the hole” because of costs they bore from undocumented immigrants. Clearly, the cities and counties providing services, like healthcare and education, to families of undocumented immigrants are not being reimbursed with revenue collected by the State from undocumented immigrants. The state legislature is allocating that money elsewhere while local communities continue to struggle to make ends meet.

This is a problem that needs to be solved.  Texas should enact laws that ensure that the tax and fees immigrants pay into the the General Revenue Fund is used to reimburse counties and cities for the services those local governments provide.