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The Brief: Demand for undocumented labor, drugs rampant across country

Although the Texas Legislature spent nearly $800 million on a border security apparatus, the demand for cheap labor and illegal drugs continues to spread.

The Rio Grande between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.

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The Big Story

The final installment of our yearlong Bordering on Insecurity project, a look toward the U.S.-based factors that contribute to illegal immigration, launches today. 

Despite promises from President-elect Donald Trump and other Republican lawmakers — especially in Texas — to strengthen security along the U.S.-Mexico border, a fundamental truth underlies the nation's collective failure to stop illegal immigration and smuggling: The United States demands the cheap labor and drugs. Here’s the story:

Congress doesn’t require employers to vouch for the authenticity of the documents that job applicants show them when filling out an I-9 form. The Pew Research Center estimates undocumented immigrants represent 5 percent of the civilian workforce, and researchers at the Workers Defense Project and the University of Texas at Austin reported in 2013 that half of the workers they surveyed at Texas construction sites were here illegally.

Despite their majority, Republicans in Congress have yet to pass U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith’s proposal to make electronic employment verification (E-Verify) mandatory for most U.S. employers. Following his win, Trump advocated for expanding the program, which would represent a sea change in the traditionally soft approach to immigrant hiring practices in Congress and the federal bureaucracy.

Regardless of promises from politicians to crack down on hiring undocumented workers, legislative efforts have met fierce resistance from business interests. As a result, the chances of actually getting caught working as an undocumented immigrant remain slim.

In addition to hiring undocumented laborers, Americans are also buying tons of illegal drugs produced south of the border. The CIA estimates 95 percent of U.S.-bound cocaine passes through Mexico, which is also the largest supplier of methamphetamines, heroin and other opiates making their way to U.S. streets.

An estimated 1.6 million Texans suffer from addiction, according to the state’s Department of State Health Services. However, only about 6 percent of those who can’t afford drug treatment on their own are getting help from the state.

What We're Reading

(Links below lead to outside websites; content might be behind paywall)

JR Tokai fears high-speed US rail projects could get trumped, Nikkei Asian Review

'No free lunch': City pensions will be pricey, even after reform, Houston Chronicle

Immigrant families released from detention overwhelm local aid workers, San Antonio Express-News

Lewis to step down as Harris County Dem party chair, Houston Chronicle 

Audit slams spinning chair treatment for veteransThe Dallas Morning News

Today in TribTalk

"For years, Houston city officials brought their issues to the Texas Legislature. We asked the Lege to mediate between opposing viewpoints and solve our problems. This session, I bring the Lege not a problem, but a solution to increasing pension costs in Houston."

— Sylvester Turner, Mayor of Houston

Trib Events for the Calendar

•   A Conversation with Sen.-elect Dawn Buckingham & Rep.-elect Hugh Shine on Dec. 8 at Temple College – Arnold Student Union

•   Health Care and the 85th Legislature on Dec. 15 at UT Health Science Center San Antonio - Pestana Lecture Hall

•   Trivia Night on Jan. 8 at The Highball 

•   A Conversation with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Jan. 11 at The Austin Club 

•   A Conversation with Reps. Dustin Burrows & Drew Darby on Jan. 19 at Howard College – West Texas Training Center

•   A Conversation with Sen. Kel Seliger & Rep. Brooks Landgraf on Feb. 17 at Odessa College – Saulsbury Campus Center

•   A Conversation with Reps. Senfronia Thompson & James White on March 31 at Prairie View A&M University – W.A. Tempton Memorial Student Center

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