Finally, A Texas‐​sized Solution on Immigration Policy

June 13, 2012 • Commentary
This article appeared in Houston Chronicle on June 13, 2012.

The recent Texas state Republican Party convention in Fort Worth was boisterous, with attendees arguing about everything from party unity to foreign policy and what the GOP platform should read. The positive thing to emerge from the convention, however, is the evolving GOP stance on immigration.

A plank was inserted into the party platform to:

Create an Effective and Efficient Temporary Worker Program — A national Temporary Worker Program should be implemented to bring skilled and unskilled workers into the United States for temporary periods of time when no U.S. workers are currently available.

That is a huge step in the right direction.

Our immigration system is a bureaucratic monstrosity in which officials frequently lose paperwork, fail to issue proper documentation, and delay cases for years. For most immigrants there is no visa category or way to enter the U.S. legally.

That’s where Texas work visa provision comes in. The details are still vague but recreating something like the Bracero program, a temporary, unlimited, and lightly regulated work visa that was in place from 1942 to 1964, would be better than the present work visa system. The Bracero program pushed unauthorized workers into legal work visas, away from the informal economy, and provided a legal avenue for foreign workers and American employers to work together.

Nothing like it exists today. Current temporary visas like the H-2A for farm workers are so regulated, complicated, and expensive that unauthorized immigrants are often the cheaper option. According to a recent Georgia Department of Agriculture survey, farmers almost uniformly complained about the regulations and expense of the visa program. One frustrated farmer wrote, “I was 15–20 workers short this year. Due to laws that [a]ffected the migration of seasonal help.” A plea for liberalization couldn’t be clearer.

A 21st century Bracero that includes workers of all skills would dissolve much of the informal immigrant economy and allow employers to find the employees they need.

he Texas GOP has seen how restricting immigration has hurt other states. Arizona is the prime example. When its immigration laws forced roughly 200,000 unauthorized immigrants from the state they took their purchasing power, money, rents, and businesses with them. Arizona’s economy declined more than its neighbors.

Arizona’s immigration laws significantly expanded penalties for employers who knowingly hired unauthorized immigrants. For a second such offense, the business owner’s licenses were permanently revoked. The mere threat of such an action has driven investments out of the state. Threatening to close businesses with immigration regulations is counterproductive to economic growth.

According to the Kauffman Foundation, 550 out of every 100,000 immigrants start a new business every month. For Hispanics, the largest immigrant group, the rate is 520. The native‐​born rate of business creation is 270. Overall in 2011, 28 percent of all new businesses started were started by immigrants despite them only representing about 13 percent of the American population.

The Texas GOP platform change also highlighted a major difference between itself and President Obama. When Obama was the junior senator from Illinois in 2007, he voted for a poison pill amendment introduced by then‐​Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., that gutted the essential guest worker reform provision in that year’s immigration reform proposal. It passed 49 to 48 and Obama’s vote for Dorgan’s amendment was unexpected.

The Dorgan amendment was passed to appease labor unions who were worried about competition from guest workers. Ironically, the Bracero guest worker visa was also killed by union inspired opposition in the 1960s. Eliminating legal work channels in the 1960s led to the present mess with unauthorized immigration and it won’t be solved without reopening them.

Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations that an open and prosperous economy requires the “free circulation of labour and stock, both from employment to employment and from place to place.” Borders, wage controls, and regulations should not stand in the way of that profitable migration. The Texas GOP is beginning to hear that message.

The Texas GOP’s position on immigration isn’t perfect. The platform supports biometric identification and a limiting of birthright citizenship for the children of unauthorized immigrants, two terrible proposals. But those negative parts shouldn’t overshadow the accomplishment of a major state GOP realizing that the only way forward on immigration is an increase in work permits and a liberalization of our immigration laws.

About the Author
Alex Nowrasteh

Director of Immigration Studies and Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, Cato Institute