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Obama Action on Immigration Could Benefit Texas Economy

With the midterm elections behind him, President Obama said he was ready to take executive action to prevent many undocumented immigrants from being deported, which analysts said could benefit Texas' agricultural, construction and service industries.

The Rally for Immigration Reform on Congress Avenue near the Texas Capitol on Feb. 22, 2013.

EL PASO — With the midterm elections behind him, President Obama said he was ready to take executive action to prevent many undocumented immigrants from being deported, which analysts said could benefit Texas' agricultural, construction and service industries.

“For the Texas economy, executive action could be a boon,” said Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a Washington-based policy research group. “The agricultural and construction industries disproportionately depend on undocumented workers. And I think there are a lot of growers and builders out there who would rest a lot easier if their work force was stable and legal.”

In Texas, noncitizens make up about 35 percent of farmworkers, according to a White House study on the effects of an immigration overhaul in Texas. 

At least half of the state’s construction workers are undocumented, according to a 2013 study by the Workers Defense Project and the University of Texas at Austin. Many employees are classified as “independent contract workers,” not as full time, allowing employers to avoid paying taxes, workers’ compensation and overtime and to avoid checking a worker’s immigration status.

The president is expected to expand and modify his 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative. That initiative provides certain younger undocumented immigrants a two-year reprieve from deportation proceedings and gives them renewable work permits. Applicants must have been in the United States continuously since June 2007, must have arrived in the country before they were 16 and must have been 30 or younger in June 2012.

Lorella Praeli, a policy director for United We Dream, which advocates immigration changes, said the president should remove the age limit and expand relief to those who entered the country after 2007.

“We know that he’s got broad constitutional and legal authority, and so we expect that his administration’s policy will include millions of people,” Praeli said.

Through June, more than 105,200 of the country's 642,700 deferred action applicants were from Texas, and 88,100 of those had been approved, according to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

An estimated 149,000 people in Texas are eligible but have not enrolled, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group.

About 50,000 more undocumented immigrants across the country would be eligible for deferred action if the arrival year was changed to 2009 from 2007, and another 180,000 if the relief were extended to people who were in the country before turning 18.

President Obama’s plan to act alone would bypass any partisan battles in Congress, where Republicans will control both houses come January. Some Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have balked at sweeping immigration changes.

“Now is the time to stand up to the president and say, ‘No more amnesty,'" Cruz said in Austin on Tuesday after the polls closed and Republicans were assured a majority in the U.S. Senate.

Noorani said more moderate Republicans might see tackling immigration as a way to prove they can address pressing issues, which could help them take back the White House in 2016.

“They can either get credit for fixing the immigration system and actually saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to make this permanent,’ or they can get credit for trying to take the legalization of families away,” he said.

Obama, who delayed taking action on immigration until after the elections, said Wednesday that he would act on immigration before January.

“Before the end of the year, we’re going to take whatever lawful actions I can take that I believe will improve the functioning of our immigration system,” he said Wednesday. “What I am not going to do is just wait."

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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