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Texas counts DACA, Dream Act cost

17 Jan

By John Austin, Jacksonville Progress

AUSTIN — Holding a campus job to cover rent while attending the University of Texas isn’t making Sam Cervantes rich, but the sales taxes and tuition he pays are helping enrich the state’s economy.

Yet while Cervantes aspires to someday become a lawyer, as one of about 124,000 Texans approved for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program after they came to the U.S. as undocumented children, his future is uncertain.

“I can’t sleep at night,” said Cervantes, 20, whose parents moved the family from Mexico to Houston to find work when he was 5 years old. “I have this huge weight on my shoulders.”

President Donald Trump has moved to rescind the Obama-era program later this year, and a temporary court ruling on Wednesday that keeps DACA in place could complicate reaching a longer-term legislative solution on immigration.

Still, while DACA’s future is unknown, there are some clear state-level economic impact numbers attached to those who live and work under the program in Texas.

“Researchers estimate that approximately 177,000 young Texas immigrants are potentially eligible for DACA, and they currently contribute a total of $241 million to local and state taxes annually through sales and excise taxes, property taxes and income tax,” according a recent report from the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin.

The tax figures CPPP cited came from a November study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a non-partisan Washington think tank.

About 800,000 people have received DACA approval program since 2012.

Texas is second only to California in DACA residents.

Those covered by DACA arrived in the U.S. before age 16, met education and other requirements.

The were protected from deportation for renewable two-year periods.

Advocates are hoping for congressional action on a so-called Dream Act that would cover DACA recipients as well as a broader category of undocumented residents.

For Texas, a Dream Act would yield an annual $54 million increase for state and local revenue.

Matthew J. O’Brien, director of research at the Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington, D.C., pointed to a “number of costs associated with the DACA program and some serious down sides,” in an email.

“If the roughly 800,000 current DACA recipients were deported from the United States, the labor force would shrink by … .5 percent and the aggregate GDP would drop by a tiny .4 percent,” O’Brien wrote.

“However, in December 2017, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that an amnesty for DACA recipients, or any similar amnesty program, would result in a cost of at least $25.9 billion to taxpayers over the 2018-27 period.”

But the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank, estimates that a national Dream Act covering the estimated 306,000 Texas residents who would be eligible under a bill introduced last summer by Sen. Graham, Lindsey, R-South Carolina, would yield a long-term $3.4 billion GDP gain for the state each year.

If half of those eligible for the Dream Act earned green cards through higher-education attainment, the figure could exceed $11 billion, due to greater productivity and economic contributions, according to the Center for American Progress.

Graham’s bill would apply to those who meet residence, age — under 18 when they first entered the U.S. — education and other requirements.

“Without the national Dream Act, Texas can expect to lose at least $79 million in state and local tax revenue,” the CPPP reported. “That’s the projected loss if DACA recipients stay in the state after losing work authorization, earning lower wages and becoming less likely to file income tax returns.”

Philip Wolgin, the Center for American Progress managing director for immigration policy, said a Dream Act would add $562 million annually to Texas’ GDP from the construction workforce alone.

“Texas is still recovering from a hurricane,” Wolgin said. “If you’re going to take out workers, that just doesn’t make sense.”

Wolgin said he’s optimistic that Congress will act soon.

Cervantes, who hasn’t returned to Mexico since his parents brought him to Texas, hopes so.

“If the Dream Act doesn’t pass, I see empty houses, cars that cannot be paid for,” he said. “There are going to be classrooms without teachers.”