AUSTIN – Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples today addressed the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s 11th Annual Policy Orientation for the Texas Legislature and offered the following remarks.
Note: Commissioner Staples may deviate slightly from prepared text.
Let’s face it, America's immigration and guest worker programs are antiquated, outdated, dilapidated and broken.
Numerous reform measures have been proposed only to be met with failure. Attacks from both the left and the right have derailed congressional action.
States, frustrated with Washington’s inability to agree on fundamental reforms, have passed various forms of legislation ─ all with mixed results ─ and are clearly inadequate to fully address what fundamentally requires federal legislation.
While Washington continues to posture and postpone; states, our business community, our local communities and our economy continue to suffer.
This issue came into clear and sharp focus for me one night almost a couple of years ago, flying in a DPS helicopter, radioing to Border Patrol agents on the ground, who were seeking to apprehend suspects. The grim reality is, no one knew, in the dark of night, if the target was an armed and dangerous drug cartel member or a job seeker violating our entry laws.
If our state, federal and local law enforcement officials ─ who, by the way, do a tremendous job with the resources they have ─ could focus on the violently treacherous drug cartels that have grown more defiant and deadly as they take advantage of our porous southern border, what a force multiplier it would be!
We could effectively utilize taxpayer dollars, and the end result would protect landowners and restore the sovereignty of America.
But that’s not what I saw flying through the dark night with our fine troopers. I saw what they see every day, all too often in the darkness, our law enforcement assets, stretched, doing their best.
By mitigating the flow of illegal entries of those seeking to fill the “want ads” of American businesses, we can regain operational control of our border.
Now, Texas and America need a workforce.
Even in light of the difficult recession and high unemployment rates across our nation, no one was relocating to the Rio Grande Valley to pick grapefruit.
Articles document California strawberries are going unpicked and Washington apples drop to the ground because of too few workers.
The simple fact is, from agriculture to construction to hospitality, our country is not producing the workforce necessary to meet the market demands of our economy.
This phenomenon is not new, nor is it peculiar to the United States. Our competitor to the north, Canada, has an ongoing, aggressive effort aimed at bringing in more workers.
We know Texans are pro-jobs, pro-economy, pro-business and pro-security; therefore, I believe, Texans are pro-legal immigration.
I also believe every American who wants a job should be first in line to receive that job; but folks, the lines are not being formed, and the result is America is home to a shadow economy ─ enabled by an outdated guest worker program that is based on artificial quotas that have no relationship to market forces ─ which has yielded an undocumented population estimated to range between 11 million to 20 million people.
Our country needs leadership, and Texas has a unique perspective that must shape, guide, prod and even pull the national debate.
With our state being home to almost two-thirds of our entire southern U.S. border; with Texas having one of the fastest-growing populations; with Texas being a national leader in job growth; with Texas being a national top producer of food and fiber; with Texas having the second-largest population of undocumented workers; and with Mexico being the No.1 trading partner for the Lone Star State, who better than Texas to play this role of developing, debating and delivering tangible solutions to our country’s immigration stalemate?
As citizens, representatives and policy makers of a state, we know firsthand that individual states understand best how to thoughtfully address our nation’s most difficult policy challenges. But whether we like it or not, the federal government has jurisdiction over immigration policy.
But just because Congress holds the power to immigration reform, that does not mean that states, and Texas specifically, should not lead the charge to finally act. States are the best incubator to develop and demand national reform. And like so many issues, on this, Texas must lead the charge.
For too long, immigration policy has been viewed through the lens of a political chessboard – pawns for one party’s gain, and another’s loss.
And while the president may continue to play political chess seeking maximum gain, I know ─ as Texans ─ we can lead on this critical issue and craft solutions guided by free market principles, not cheap political leveraging.
In short, solving this challenge will require market-based solutions, not government mandated quotas; and our chances of success will only be limited by our commitment to principle and political courage.
The panel you are about to hear will offer solutions to obstacles that have derailed much-needed action.
It will seek to answer the tough questions; questions like:
“Do we believe people are coming here illegally today seeking citizenship, or do people come here looking for a job?”
“Do we really want to grow a government big enough to round up 11 million people?”
“Are we going to make the mistakes of past amnesty that have perpetuated the problem to where it is today?”
“How do we get organized labor to loosen its opposition to revamping our visa programs that result in encouraging the illegal entry of job seekers?”
“Are we going to allow the conversation to be hijacked by those seeking partial solutions to meet political objectives, Mr. President?”
And you, the audience, will have to determine if Texans are going to take the lead in solving this issue of our day.
As you do, keep in mind the words of Dr. Walter Williams, distinguished professor of economics at George Mason University, when he wrote:
“Compassionate policy requires dispassionate analysis. Policy intentions and policy effects often bear no relationship to one another.”
Brooke, thank you and the TPPF, and all of you here today for your leadership for Texas.