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Immigration Reform: Impacts at the State and Federal Levels Essay

Texas has a reputation throughout history of differing views from the federal government in laws and politics pertaining to social, fiscal, and educational issues. On the whole, Texas operates as a largely conservative state. Because of this, policy-making is often right wing. With the institution of a Democratic, liberal president, the State’s dissent from the Federal government has only increased over certain issues. One hot topic of the 2012 Presidential election was immigration. With the major increase in immigration, it is no surprise that the issue was so emphasized. Between 2000 and 2011 there was a 30 percent increase in the foreign-born population. The immigrant population grew from 31.1 million to 40.04 million. (americanprogress.org) Texas has a special interest in this subject due to the fact that they have a population of over 4 million immigrants. Texas is among the top three states with foreign born individuals living within its borders, giving the state a vested interest in the nation’s immigration policy. (Orrenius et al., 1)

Historically, Texas has differentiated from the National government in regards to immigration. One example is the Supreme Court case Plyer v. Doe. In 1975, the Texas Legislature allowed public schools to deny enrollment to children who could not provide documentation that they were “legally-admitted” to the United States. In 1977, the Tyler independent school district adopted a policy that required foreign-born students who were not “legally-admitted” to pay tuition to attend. A group of students from Mexico who could not establish their “legal-admittance” filed a class action suit which challenged the policy. The Supreme Court ruled that the policy violated the Equal Protection Clause, stating, “If states provide a free public education to U.S. citizens and lawfully present foreign-born children, they cannot deny such an education to undocumented children without ‘showing that it furthers some substantial state interest.’” (immigrationpolicy.org)

Being a right-wing state, Texas has a strong belief in state autonomy in policy making, therefore the decision in this case was not well-received by the majority of individuals in the state—despite it being the morally and legally correct decision. Texas has also long supported an increase in border security. In 2006, Gov. Rick Perry announced a plan that assigned Department of Public Safety personnel as well as other resources to the border to assist in law enforcement. He also added an additional $3.8 million in grant funding for state criminal justice planning funds to the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition. (Texas House of Representatives) The state’s legislative policy has been one of strict anti-immigration. In Texas’s 81st Legislative session, the issue of Voter ID arose. The Voter ID bill would require photo identification or two forms of other identification in order to vote. During the 81st session, Democrats filibustered to prevent the issue from being voted upon, it is very likely this is the only reason the bill did not pass and it likely will pass should it reappear in the 82nd session.

Despite its history of harsh policies towards foreign born immigrants, two bills have been introduced into the Texas Legislature which provide some leniency toward immigrants. The first is a proposal would grant undocumented immigrants the ability to legally drive and obtain insurance if they pass a background check and a driving test. Texas Rep. Byron Cook said about the subject, “That’s much better policy than what we have right now, where we have undocumented workers that are driving without a license and without insurance, and we don’t know who they are or where they live.” (Harper) Despite the reason behind it, the policy definitely shows an unprecedented favor towards illegal aliens within Texas borders. The second bill would prohibit law enforcement from asking the immigration status of witnesses and victims of crimes. Though neither of these bills has made it to debate, they do demonstrate a shift from previous anti-immigration sentiment.

In June of this year, the Senate passed immigration reform bill S.744, containing several provisions including: increased border security, a feasible path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, creates a new category of merit-based green cards for individuals who meet certain criteria which might benefit the national interest, and mandates that all employers in the country use E-Verify—a government work-authorization system—within five years of employment (americanprogress.org). While the provisions of this bill are largely in line with the beliefs of the Texas Legislature and policies of the state, they do bring certain issues to light. Although the idea of stricter Federal immigration policies seems to be beneficial for the states, often the federal government passes legislation and leaves the states to handle the cost. For example, from October 2011 to September 2013 Texas county jails spent $156.6 million on incarceration of undocumented immigrants. (Su, 23)

Ultimately, immigration policy on both the state and federal level will continue to be a dynamic topic. While certain aspects of immigration reform will likely have major benefits for the nation such as boosts to the economy with an estimated 121,000 jobs being added yearly and an increase in the GDP over 10 years, others are fundamentally flawed. For instance, the E-Verify system is viewed by some as the first step towards a national identification system for all US citizens. This is viewed by many as an invasion of privacy. In addition to this, according to research the system misidentifies about 1% of applicants as undocumented. (Against The Current) Forcing employers to use E-Verify could also lead to a decrease in State and Federal payroll taxes because it could cause employers to move their undocumented employees “off the books” to avoid having to incur the cost of training new employees and offering more competitive wages.

Although both state and federal governments have good intentions with their immigration policies, both have serious issues to consider. Solving the immigration problem will require Federal and Local governments to work hand in hand. Border security is something both sides advocate heavily, spending millions on walls, electronic equipment, and increased border patrol. The cost has not just been limited to dollars, however, as increase border security leads to an increase in casualties. Immigration reform has the potential to boost the economy as well as increase the relations between the United States and foreign countries. By continuing to advocate for a path to citizenship and work towards getting the 11 million undocumented immigrants citizenship, the government can achieve these goals. In addition, continued movement towards bipartisanism on both the state and federal levels can create an overall better, more effective nation.

Works Cited:
“Facts on Immigration Today.” Center for American Progess. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2013. .

Orrenius, Pia M., Madeline Zavodny, and Melissa LoPalo. Pia M. Orrenius Madeline Zavodny Melissa LoPalo Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas Agnes Scott College Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas DALLAS FED Immigration and the Transformation of the Texas Economy. Nov. 2013. Print. “Public Education for Immigrant Students: States Challenge Supreme Court’s Decision in Plyler v. Doe.” Immigration Policy Center. American Immigration Council, n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2013. .

Texas House of Representatives. House Research Organization. The Role of States in Immigration Enforcement. Feb. 2006. Print.
Harper, Karen Brooks. “Immigrant Driving Permit Bill in Legislature Raises Tough Issue for GOP.” Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 2 May 2013: Print. SU, RICK. “The States Of Immigration.” William & Mary Law Review 54.4 (2013): 1339-1407. Academic Search Complete. Web. 8 Dec. 2013. “Organizations and Leaders’ Critique of S.744.” Against The Current 28.4 (2013): 11-12. Academic Search Complete. Web. 8 Dec. 2013.


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