Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Advertise in our classifieds section
Your classified listing could be here!
October 4, 2022

Texas leaders and experts discuss the current state of immigration at Texas Tribune Festival

Leila Saidane
City of El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser on The Texas Tribune Festival’s “What Immigration Means to America” panel with Texas State Prof. Sarah Coleman, policy advisor Laura Collins, Dara Lind, American Immigration Council fellow, and moderator Perla Trevizo on Sep. 23, 2023.

Immigration plays a positive role in the United States’ economy and culture, Texas leaders and experts said at the annual Texas Tribune Festival Saturday. 

The panel, entitled “What Immigration Means to America,” included El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser; Laura Collins, director of the George W. Bush-SMU Economic Growth Initiative; Sarah Coleman, an assistant professor at Texas State University whose research focuses on immigration and race, and Dara Lind, a senior fellow at the American Immigration Council. The panelists’ discussion took place amid decades-high levels of migrants crossing the U.S. southern border. 

Kicking off the conversation, Collins said immigrants make up 20% of the labor force in Texas and assist in meeting job demands at every skill level. She said immigrants play a vital role in the future prosperity of the country, but the U.S. system is geared more towards family sponsorships than job opportunities.

“We know immigrants are here filling jobs. … Any part of the economy that has an open job, there is probably a foreign-born person who’s willing to fill it,” Collins said. “It really is a matter of does our immigration system want to let them in to do it?”

The panelists discussed how the system limits the economic boost immigrants bring to Texas and the country. Coleman said asylum seekers cannot obtain a work permit until their application has been on the books for six months and the government does not have an obligation to assist asylum seekers past hearing their case. This gap in assistance leads to millions of dollars in emergency aid being sent to border cities like El Paso to shelter and feed migrants, Leeser said. 

“I can tell you in the last nine days, we have (worked) to keep people off the streets (by putting) 7,000 people in hotel rooms, we’ve served 16,500 meals and this is money that we’re spending from the federal government,” Leeser said. “A local city like El Paso couldn’t afford to do this day in and day out, our numbers are (at) the point where it is going to really require a lot of partnership with the federal government on a program and an immigration system that’s broken … and help us try to fix it.”

The panelists also said the immigration conversation primarily focuses on perceived crises, hindering any nuanced discussions of how to better the system to meet economic demands. Lind said this leads to an overreliance on emergency-based services rather than trying to prepare and expand the country’s capability to handle an influx of migrants.

“Ultimately we’d be saving money because all of the money that Congress has to spend as emergency appropriations for temporary facilities … would instead have to be spent once,” Lind said. “Also, we would have a feeling as a country that this is something that we’re capable of handling because we wouldn’t be seeing these very visible images of these bottlenecks.”

Coleman said moving away from standard crisis rhetoric and instead talking about specific immigration programs creates room for bipartisan coalitions to form. Leeser echoed this sentiment and added that people must agree that they will have to disagree on this issue and then come together to actually fix it. 

Concluding the conversation, the panelists discussed how the dysfunction of the immigration system negatively impacts the country’s ability to attract migrants and creates a bad experience of American life once they arrive.

“For a long time, the United States is the number one destination for migrants worldwide and that’s because immigrants still believe in those American ideals of freedom and opportunity,” Collins said. “I’m not sure if we keep having a system that rejects as many people, that stymies people’s progress … we’re going to continue to be the worldwide destination.”

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Leila Saidane, Photo Editor
Leila Saidane is a junior from Dallas, Texas, studying Radio-TV-Film and Journalism. Her words and photos have been published in The Texas Tribune, The Austin Chronicle, The Austin American-Statesman and The Dallas Morning News.