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Lawmaker Wants to Know Immigration Impact

For all the legislative debate about border security and immigration, it's been nine years since anyone comprehensively studied the economic impact of undocumented Texans. A border lawmaker wants to fill that information vacuum.

Rally for Immigration Reform walked up Congress Ave. towards the Texas Capitol on February 22nd, 2013

As state lawmakers debate spending millions of dollars on border security, doing away with in-state college tuition for some undocumented students and other controversial immigration issues, they lack a fundamental set of information that could affect their decisions — what impact do undocumented Texans have on the state economy?

It's been nine years since anyone undertook a comprehensive study to find out whether undocumented immigrants help or hurt the state. A border lawmaker wants to fill that information vacuum by requiring the state comptroller to assess the economic impact of illegal immigration for lawmakers each year.

House Bill 2416 by state Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, would require regular updates to a 2006 study conducted by former Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn.

That study estimated that deporting the approximately 1.4 million undocumented immigrants living in Texas in 2005 would have cost the state about $17.7 billion in gross domestic product. It also showed that the state collected more in taxes and other revenues — about $1.6 billion in 2005 — than the $1.16 billion it spent to provide them with state services. But the study also concluded that local governments weren't reimbursed by the state for about $1.4 billion in health care and law enforcement costs. 

That study is no longer available on the comptroller's website.

An updated study would ensure that lawmakers have accurate information when considering legislation on hot-button issues like immigration and enforcement, Blanco said in a statement.

"We owe it to the public make decisions that affect them based on accurate information," he said. "It is a disservice to make important policy decisions based on groundless statements, especially when taxpayer funding is involved. I'm hopeful that this study will arm lawmakers and state agencies with invaluable information moving forward."

The study issue is steeped in politics. In 2006, Strayhorn unsuccessfully challenged former Gov. Rick Perry, and lawmakers have speculated that she hoped to peg Perry as soft on illegal immigration. The report’s net-gain analysis dashed those efforts.

In June 2013, former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, asked then-Comptroller Susan Combs to update the study, arguing that it would be “vital to the 38 Texas members of Congress, and to other elected officials and decision-makers as they grapple with immigration reform.” (Blanco previously served as Gallego’s chief of staff in Washington.)

Combs didn’t bite and told Gallego, who served in the Texas House for 20 years before going to Washington, that staffing and budget issues, along with changes to state and federal laws, rendered the task too difficult to try.

“Updating the report, thus, would take months to complete and would require the commitment of resources that our office is unable to allocate to such a project at this time,” she wrote to Gallego.

While running for the seat, current Comptroller Glenn Hegar said in 2013 that he supported updating the study, or conducting a new one.

“In order for Texas to truly understand the costs of illegal immigration to our state, we do need updated numbers. Whether it is updating that specific study or conducting a similar one, is something my administration will do,” he said.

As of Thursday afternoon, Hegar hadn't seen Blanco's proposal, spokeswoman Lauren Willis said. But she said Hegar thinks "it's an issue that is important to Texans" and the office will move forward after lawmakers make a decision on the bill.

The closest thing Texans have to an updated analysis is a 2013 study performed by the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based immigration think tank. It found that Texas would lose $69.3 billion in economic activity, $30.8 billion in gross state product and approximately 403,174 jobs if the state’s undocumented immigrant population were deported.

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