A DACA fix makes good business sense: Recoup our investment in Dreamers

A DACA fix makes good business sense: Recoup our investment in Dreamers
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On my morning commute into Austin, Texas, there are multiple cranes in the air, building high-rise apartments, condos, and commercial office space. The state’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.9 percent last November, the lowest in four decades. We have approached what economists call the “natural rate,” where almost everyone who seeks a job can find a job.

This may be good news for job seekers, but given this economic backdrop of explosive growth with a looming labor shortage, the current immigration debate unfolding in Washington is of major concern to me and the members of the Texas Business Leadership Council.

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You see, while the number of immigrants in the United States is up by roughly 30 percent since 2000, in Texas it is up by more than 50 percent. We have a disproportionate share of undocumented workers as well. A recent study estimated that 1.2 million jobs in Texas are filled by undocumented workers every year, mostly in construction, hospitality, administration, and manufacturing. That is more than 11 percent of our total workforce.

 

Any law that impacts a population of that size will send shockwaves through the economy. That same study, written when the unemployment rate was higher than it is today, warned that “even if all currently unemployed persons filled jobs now held by undocumented workers (which is impossible for myriad reasons), the state would be left with a glaring gap of hundreds of thousands of workers if the current workforce were no longer available.”

These individuals also add billions to the Texas economy each year thanks to their contributions to state and local tax coffers, their purchasing power, and their workplace productivity. That is even after factoring in the costs of education, social services, and health care that they receive. 

Of course, there are also studies that suggest that undocumented immigrants are actually a net drain on Texas — and on our nation. But the support for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) expressed by so many leading companies rebuts this claim.

These “net drain” studies tend to be cramped analyses, based on broad estimates and assumptions, highlighting the costs of public education, for example, without offsetting that investment against later contributions back into our economy, and our society.

This kind of short-sightedness appears to explain the willingness of certain members of the administration and Congress to allow the DACA program to expire with nothing to replace it. 

Yes, many children who were illegally brought to the United States by an undocumented parent — more than 200,000 of whom are estimated to live in Texas — were educated in our public schools, regardless of whether their families paid federal taxes. 

Now, those young people have graduated. The dollars have been spent. They have jobs; a staggering 93 percent of DACA recipients over 25 are employed. They are buying houses and cars. They are starting businesses, and they are doing so at a rate far surpassing their U.S.-born peers. They are caring for our parents, teaching our children, building our technologies. They are following our rules. In Texas alone, “Dreamers” contribute $6.3 billion to the GDP annually.

I don’t support scofflaws, and neither do my fellow Texans. But we do support justice, and we support pragmatic, business-friendly policies and economic stability. And as a matter of basic tactics, businesses aim to retain their talent. They don’t want to see a worker that they have invested in and trained to suddenly start working for their competitor.

Offering individuals who came to America as children — through no fault of their own — who are at the beginning of their careers, who are legally permitted to be here, who have learned our language, and want to contribute to our society, a path to remain here would allow us to recoup our investment and avoid the economic turmoil and social disruption that would come from mass deportation.

Now news comes that after months of uncertainty and weeks of internal negotiations, the House leadership is ready to move forward with two possible fixes to DACA. That is the good news. The bad news is that negotiations are not over and support for either of these bills to pass is akin to a swinging pendulum.

Call me a cynic, but it seems to me that the only reason for not fixing DACA — and reform our immigration process overall — is because it’s a handy political football to kick around come election time. I appreciate the efforts by members of the Texas delegation to find a common-sense and transparent plan on the DACA system, and I urge them to do what they can to reach resolution on this issue.

Since its founding, the United States has inspired and cultivated generations of innovators, entrepreneurs, and go-getters. We have an opportunity to continue this proud tradition, and we should take it.

Justin Yancy is president of the Texas Business Leadership Council.