The American Jewish Committee and the Kinder Institute at Rice University hosted an immigration summit at Rice on Tuesday, to address the cost savings of implementing immigration reform in Texas.
The AJC’s Bridging America Project provides communities with programs and public education to achieve local support for immigration reform. The summit was led by a panel of five local leaders who collaborated on the importance of having a movement for the state’s undocumented residents that will benefit every Texan.
“Immigration reform without question is a politically-charged issue,” said Greater Houston Partnership Chairman, Larry Kellner.
Although the business community tends to shy away from politically-charged issues, businesses are advocating for immigration reform, Kellner said. He believes we need everyone who is working to contributing to the tax system. “A strong business community makes for a strong Houston.”
Changes to Public Policy
Beto Cardenas of Vinson & Elkins addressed public policy through public safety and law enforcement, and how cost savings can be achieved by implementing immigration reform.
One change that needs to be considered, with respect to state legislation, is one that allows a current immigrant of illegal status to obtain a driver privilege card that allows them to receive auto insurance and vehicle registration, said Cardenas.
“The highest priority of law enforcement is to protect all residents in the community,” Cardenas said.
He discussed how local residents with questionable legal status must be able to identify themselves as crime victims or witnesses without the fear of deportation. “Crime is neither prevented or solved under these conditions,” Cardenas said, “and that is a cost to us in dollars.”
Providing Health Care
President and CEO of Harris County Hospital District, David S. Lopez told the audience that his staff believes in immigration reform and will not turn down undocumented residents if they need basic healthcare.
“We are taking care of basic needs in our community,” Lopez said.
The cost for treating a patient with basic outpatient healthcare is less than treating a patient with a severe condition that went untreated and needs to be hospitalized, he said. Turning people away for not being legal residents is not a part of the Harris County Hospital District policy.
“People have a dire need for healthcare, and providing an environment free of fear of deportation is very important to us,” he said.
Houston’s public schools have a policy of not turning students away due to their status.
“There is nothing more important to our states future than having an highly educated workforce,” said Juliet Stipeche, HISD Board of Education Trustee, District VIII.
An educated population improves the state’s economy, is more productive, more socially responsible and civically engaged, Stipeche said. She considers education a matter of life and death, as she discussed how a high school dropout is 47 times more likely to be jailed than a college graduate and has a mortality rate that is three times higher than a person who has more than a high school education.
Students’ legal statuses and educational opportunity are intertwined, she adds, which is why federal law prohibits the questioning children’s statuses in grades K through 12.
But what are undocumented students faced with once they have graduated from college? How can these students achieve the American dream without the combination of years of hard work and dedication ending with citizenship? Stipeche said that current case in law creates hope without opportunity, and the passage of the DREAM Act and other laws and legislation will help Texas build our community to meet the needs of today.
“We are an immigrant nation, each wave of immigrants that comes seems to forget that a little bit more,” said Deacon Joe Rubio.