Immigration law a threat to Texas competitiveness


Texas state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, made headlines recently for prefiling an Arizona-style immigration law called HB 17. An Arizona-style anti-immigration law would be disastrous for Texas.

But there are some major differences between HB 17 and Arizona’s law (SB 1070). While Arizona’s anti-immigration law is 17 pages long, Riddle’s Texas bill is barely more than a page and only deals with identifying and removing undocumented immigrants during police stops if the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect is in the U.S. without proper documentation.

Sounds mild, but the law makes no allowance for legal immigrants, like refugees awaiting court hearings or H-1B visa holders awaiting word for an extension on their visa. Both groups are legally in the U.S. but cannot prove it to police officers. Therefore, HB 17 would drive away many documented immigrants from the state.

Big chunks of the new Arizona law were declared unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court; an appeal by the state is now pending before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Our immigration system is an outdated bureaucratic nightmare in which officials frequently lose paperwork, fail to issue proper documentation, and delay cases for years. Involving local police in enforcing these laws will only complicate matters more.

Does Texas want to drive away entrepreneurs in a rough economy? If it copies Arizona, that is exactly what will happen. According to the Kauffman Foundation, a leading group on entrepreneurship research, 540 out of every 100,000 immigrants start a new business every month. For Hispanics, the largest immigrant group, the rate is 480. The native-born rate of business creation is 280.

According to the American Community Survey, immigrants are 25 percent more likely than native-born Americans to be self-employed. That is because immigrants are the best and the most energetic from their respective nations. They come to the U.S. with an entrepreneurial drive that enriches the U.S. and themselves. We should be encouraging these hardworking foreigners to immigrate, not imposing laws to harass them when they arrive.

The Arizona law significantly expands penalties for employers who hire undocumented immigrants — including those who do so unknowingly. For a second such offense, the business owner’s licenses are permanently revoked. Closing small businesses is never a good strategy in a struggling economy and should not be emulated by Texas.

Texas has weathered the economic downturn surprisingly well because of its pro-business policies. Texas has no state income tax, a light regulatory burden and relatively relaxed zoning and land-use laws. Moreover, Texas relies heavily on state sales taxes and property taxes, so even undocumented immigrants pay their fair share for public services.

HB 17 will harm businesses and blot Texas’ otherwise wise policy choices. It would cast a wide net that will punish undocumented immigrants, legal immigrants and hardworking American entrepreneurs trying to survive in precarious economic times.

Conservatives were elected last week to roll back state control over our lives, not increase it through laws like HB 17.

Texas highlights what is best about America. From rugged individuality to free markets, Texans are leading America in the 21st century. Adopting Arizona-style anti-immigration laws could kill the goose that lays the golden egg. HB 17 and all laws like it should be rejected.