Houston Chronicle: In the new world order, Houston can lead on immigration reform

I know a lot of good people who voted for Donald Trump. They aren’t against immigrants and immigration. But they sought a different direction for America.

Many voters chose Trump due to fear of the ways our country is changing. At the same time, many in our communities now face the fear that they could be taken away by a Trump administration.

As the most diverse city in the nation, Houston resembles the future of America. And the city can lead the rest of us to unite on immigration, which became so divisive during the recent campaign.

In late October, I was honored to meet with faith, law enforcement, veterans and business leaders at a symposium on immigration at the Asia Society Texas Center. Leaders from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives spoke to the value of immigrants in their communities and the contributions they have made.

For me and everyone who attended, the event underscored that the immigration debate is about much more than politics and policy. It is about who we are as Americans, the security of our nation and the culture and values that tie us together as citizens.

In his 1989 farewell speech from the Oval Office, President Ronald Reagan told the American public, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins.”

Houston’s kitchen tables provide a powerful example of inclusion. The city’s economic and social leadership cut across racial, ethnic and economic lines.

Hispanics, Asians, non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites are represented closer to equally in this metropolitan area than anywhere else in the nation. And the growing immigrant population is making huge contributions.

These different backgrounds, beliefs and ideologies offer an extremely important opportunity for us to engage with one another — perhaps around the kitchen table — to build consensus on immigration that is rooted in our shared values.

When it comes to immigrants and immigration, those values include effective security on our borders, without building walls. They include a pathway to legalized status and eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants because it’s the humane, achievable approach next to mass deportation.

Mass deportation and walls would come at a terrible human and financial cost, especially here. With so many churchgoers, business owners and schoolchildren potentially effected by such policies, the community that would feel the pain is not a subset of the population — it’s everyone.

As for the actual financial costs to the nation, mass deportation could set us back $400 billion to $600 billion, according to the American Action Forum, and that’s before you consider the economic costs of reduced productivity. And a wall spanning the entire border? That would cost $27 billion to $40 billion just to build, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have found.

Texas’ relationship with Mexico is important to the economic health of the state, too. According to the American Mexico PAC, 382,000 jobs in Texas depend on trade with Mexico. These mutual benefits compound the costs of a border wall.

Fortunately, members of Congress who represent the Houston metropolitan region are in crucial positions to defend our values and strike a different tone on immigration. And strong support for immigrants and immigration continues among conservative faith, law enforcement and business leaders, here and elsewhere.

The federal government needs to uphold its constitutional responsibility to protect the homeland by investing in the technology, personnel and physical infrastructure necessary to secure the southern border, while still accounting for interconnected lives along the border.

An intelligent immigration system matches America’s needs, emphasizes our safety and serves the interests of American workers. It does not dig into taxpayers’ pockets to scale up deportations or build walls.

President-elect Trump has an opportunity to gather America around the kitchen table. The decisions he makes, in terms of both policy and personnel, will determine the trajectory of America for generations to come.

This op-ed was originally published in the Houston Chronicle on November 10, 2016.

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