Immigration policy experts highlighted challenges associated with the US immigration system and called on lawmakers to pass needed legislative solutions including ID and Tax at a recent event hosted by the Center for Houston's Future at the Junior League of Houston.
Linda Lorelle, Emmy award winning former News Anchor for KPRC and CEO of Lorelle Media, hosted a discussion between Ali Noorani, Former President of the National Immigration Forum and Program Director for U.S. Democracy at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Stan Marek, CEO of the Marek Family of Companies.
Lorelle asked Noorani about what he wants readers to take away from the recently published book that he authored, "Crossing Borders: The Reconciliation of a Nation of Immigrants," saying that she was struck by his ability to put a human face on the issue of immigration.
Noorani explained, "What I realized as we went through the Trump Administration was that the way that migration was occurring at the global level was impacting politics and policies when it came to immigration, not just in the US but around the world. What I wanted to try to do through Crossing Borders was tell that story, but like you said, tell that story wrapped around the experiences and realities that people are facing, whether they are migrants fleeing Honduras trying to get to the US, but also Americans that have been in places like Idaho for generations...lifting up both sides of that spectrum while highlighting the similarities but also the differences," he said.
In response to a question from Lorelle about a story that stood out to him from writing the book, Noorani talked about the immigration experience of Carlos, a coffee farmer that lives in Honduras.
"He had just returned from the US-Mexico Border. Since there was no other way for him to get into the US and get a job that could pay for the healthcare that his daughter needed, he had to make a decision to sell his house and car to pay a smuggler to try to get to the US-Mexico border. Because of nation's immigration policies, there was no way for him to legally get into the US. He didn't come to the border and say, ' I'm a victim of violence, I'm seeking asylum.' He told the border patrol that he was poor and that he was looking for work and was ultimately not allowed to enter the US. Carlos' wife added that they were being punished for telling the truth," said Noorani, highlighting the lack of legal pathways that economic migrants without high levels of formal education have to enter the US.
Noorani also said that in the current political environment it has become more difficult to achieve legislative solutions on immigration because the issue is receiving less public attention than in years passed.
"We as a nation have been faced with a moral crisis over the course of the Trump administration and that is a crisis that continues to today that quite frankly we are ignoring. With the Trump Administration, immigration was always in the news because obviously the president loved talking about it. With the Biden Administration, they don't like talking about immigration, so as a result the public doesn't see it as a priority and it has become increasingly difficult to get public attention much less legislative attention to the solutions that are necessary," said Noorani.
He also pointed out that the topic of immigration is often polarized by the mainstream media, and that there is a void of non-biased media sources that provide rational coverage of this important topic that needs to be filled.
"It's part of the mainstream media ecosystem where you have Fox News, Breitbart, Newsmax who are using an anti-immigrant message to polarize the country. You have media on the left like MSNBC who are pushing back. But what is missing is trusted media sources in the middle...Ultimately Immigration is about culture and values and not politics and policy, so let's figure out innovative ways to have that cultural debate," said Noorani
On that note, a video from the Rational Middle of Immigration, a free online video docuseries that seeks to inform the public about immigration-related challenges while shaping sensible policy solutions, was viewed by the audience.
In the video, Rational Middle Executive Producer Loren Steffy provided an update on the current state of the immigration system in the US.
"The thing that is really stunning is how little has changed. Illegal border crossings are at a 20-year high. Comprehensive immigration reform remains as much of a pipe dream as ever. On DACA, which is something that 80% of Americans support, we still haven't seen any action in Congress...The question of what to do with the 11 million undocumented people who are already here has only become more important in light of the pandemic and some of the economic issues we're seeing with inflation. We have a tremendous worker shortage and we have an available workforce right here in many cases that have been here for a long time," said Steffy.
"We really need an economic policy that allows these people to come out of the shadow economy and fully participate in our economy so that not only they can benefit from it, but the whole country can benefit from it," he said.
Marek, who also appeared in the video, called on lawmakers to put politics aside to legislate a bipartisan, rational, and needed ID and Tax solution that the majority of Americans support.
"The discussion is being controlled by the 10% on the left that are 'amnesty or nothing,' and the 10% on the right which are 'deport them all.' So immigration is a political wedge that lawmakers are using effectively rather than dealing with the issue... The one idea that has resonated with just about everyone, certainly the 80% in the middle, is ID and Tax. The reasons it has resonated is because we need to know who is in our country for national security, and really the people who are working here should be paying the same taxes as the rest of us. It's a no brainer," he said.
After the video ended and received applause, Marek fielded questions about challenges he is facing as a business owner and the ID and Tax solution.
"As an employer, our biggest challenge is to find people who are legal to work in the US. ID and Tax is a very commonsense solution It is not a path to citizenship. It is a way for undocumented immigrants to earn a work permit, and to be able to work for an employer, pay taxes, get a driver's license, and have it renewed every two years if you pass a background check," explained Marek.
"Anybody can get a fake ID at the flea market. So our barrier to entry to work in the US is too low. You don't have to have an ID. A lot of jobs you just show up and go to work...They get paid cash, or if they get a check they might be called an independent subcontractor," said Marek, explaining how many unauthorized immigrants work for employers that exploit them to avoid paying payroll taxes and providing benefits.
"The people are coming for the jobs, if we made a little more difficult to go to work, they may not make that dangerous journey," he added, noting how enforcement provisions included in an ID and Tax solution would help to prevent future illegal immigration.
Marek also pointed out that a lack of legal pathways for migrants to come to the US and work is harming the US economy that currently has a record number of open jobs while only benefitting cartels.
"I've gotten the same answer to this question through years of doing this work. Would they rather pay the US $5000 for a legal visa or pay a smuggler $10,000 and go through a dangerous journey, their answer is always that they would rather pay the US government and enter legally. Right now our lack of control over the system is only benefitting one entity: the cartels," he said. Marek also placed emphasis on the need for a legislative solution to codify and expand DACA.
"2 million more undocumented children are waiting for DACA to reopen so they can get a job when they graduate from high school or college. We have 100,000 kids at our high schools who are going to graduate this year and not be able to get a legal job for a taxpaying employer, even though we paid for the primary school, middle school, and high school. A lot of people don't understand how broken the system is," he said.
"A legislative solution that reopens DACA is number one, number two is ID and Tax for the Adults," he added. Noorani added that an ID and Tax policy would help unauthorized immigrants increase their economic and fiscal contributions.
"Many people ask, 'are immigrants givers or takers,' are they giving back to the economy or are they taking a job or a service. What I like about ID and Tax is that it answers that question, because if a person is being taxed, identified, and as a result participating in the economy in a legal way, it crystal clear that they are giving back to the country," he said.
Noorani also praised recent bipartisan efforts in the Senate by lawmakers working on a bill called the Farm Workforce Modernization Act to improve the US' agricultural workforce amid increasing food prices.
"It's very important because they brokered a compromise between the two competing interests in the sector, they brought Democrats and Republicans to the table to understand: let's improve legal immigration for the ag sector, let's legalize the undocumented agricultural workforce, and let's mandate E-verify. So it's legal immigration, legalization, and enforcement. That is a really important template for the broader picture for the 11 million," said Noorani.
Another topic that speakers discussed was the declining birthrate in the US and how that will lead to shrinking workforce as the Baby Boomers are retiring. At this point, perhaps the only viable solution to increase the working age population in America is through updating the legal immigration system to allow for an increase immigration numbers.
"In order to maintain the current ratio of working age adults to retirees, which is currently about 3.54, we would require an increase in immigration of about 30%, which is roughly 300,000 people. If we do not increase immigration by about 30%, that ratio will decline, and with it retirement benefits and social security," said Noorani.