A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

A “Rational Middle” Exists for Immigration Reform

This following editorial originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle.

“Deport them all!”

“Abolish ICE!”

If passion, energy and heated rhetoric could solve our immigration issues, then Congress would have long ago passed a comprehensive reform bill.

Instead, as slogans grow more bitter, workable solutions recede. Civil discourse, not inflammatory speech, ultimately propels progress.

Thankfully, the Center for Houston's Future, a non-profit, has stepped into the breach with a series of films directed by Gregory Kallenberg that aim to create a common ground and spark conversation among the silent majority of Americans who largely agree on a mix of immigration reform policies, including a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.

To have a productive conversation, Houstonians need a basic grasp of the facts, and these films — available at RationalMiddle.com — are designed to inform us on this topic.

Faith-based communities, think tanks, universities, schools and chambers of commerce should use the films — which are free — to help build consensus, rather than ceding the floor to those who yell the loudest.

The starting point for progress is an acknowledgment that legal and illegal immigration play vital roles in our economy. Nowhere is this fact more evident than in the construction industry in Houston. Our city has just experienced the largest housing disaster in U.S. history: An estimated 300,000 homes were destroyed during Hurricane Harvey, leaving the construction industry struggling to meet the demand for labor.

As a consequence, homeowners in Houston with moldy walls and ruined floors are suffering for longer than they would otherwise need to.

Almost half of the construction workers in Texas are estimated to be undocumented, and far too many of these much-needed skilled workers are steering clear of jobs because they fear deportation. Others have left Houston and Texas because of perceived anti-immigrant sentiment.

Employers need a legal way to access our city's shadow workforce.

"As far as I'm concerned, we need all hands on deck," Harvey Recovery Czar Marvin Odum says in the third video, "Immigrations Crossroads: Rebuilding After Harvey."

The sheer economic reality of immigrant labor presents a stark and insurmountable choice for Texans.

"The bottom line is you take about 6 percent of the U.S. labor force and say 'get out of the country,' you'd have a pretty good recession," Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the president of the conservative think tank American Action Forum, states in the second video, "The Burden of a Broken System."

Nor does the federal government have the funds to deport an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. When was the last time you heard a congressman press for a tax hike to pay for the $200 or $300 million necessary for a mass deportation?

The size of a police force necessary for such a monumental act, the degree to which it would interfere with individual liberty and the potential for human rights violations should make the idea of mass deportations anathema to the soul of every American who cares about universal rights and government restraint.

Our nation, state and city are being tested. A community conversation around immigration would be a good way to strengthen the rational, quiet middle and finally pass the reforms that will ensure our immigration laws fit with economic reality.