Study touts immigrants’ impact as SB 4 challenge heads to appeals court

12:00 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017 Local
Nick Wagner
A Donald Trump supporter is pressured to leave by protesters who oppose Senate Bill 4 outside the federal courthouse in San Antonio on June 26. Several cities across Texas, including Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and El Paso, have filed suit against the controversial SB 4, commonly known as the sanctuary cities ban. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The law known as Senate Bill 4, banning so-called sanctuary cities in Texas, “will jeopardize Texas’ economic prosperity and the quality of life of its citizens,” warns a study released Monday by an Austin-based economic development and analysis firm.

The 52-page study by Angelou Economics asserts that undocumented immigrants generate a $702.9 million surplus for the state, and it argues that driving away those residents will hurt the city’s economy while increasing the jail costs of local communities.

The study came out the day before attorneys were slated to make their arguments over SB 4 before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. The appellate court, which is not expected to issue a ruling Tuesday, is evaluating a lower court’s ruling that had briefly blocked the law from taking effect.

RELATED: Read the full study by Angelou Economics

Austin, San Antonio and other cities sued the state five months ago over SB 4, which allows police to question people about their immigration status during routine detentions such as traffic stops. The law also requires local officials to honor U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally instead of allowing them to post bail.

Judges with the 5th Circuit allowed much of the law to go into effect Sept. 25. But attorneys on both sides agree SB 4 is destined for lengthy litigation that could eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thomas Saenz, the president and general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is representing San Antonio in the lawsuit, said the 5th Circuit’s next ruling on SB 4 could be a bellwether for the law’s future.

“It is an indication of judges’ or justices’ initial thinking on legal issues,” Saenz said.

Officials at the Texas attorney general’s office, which is arguing for the state, did not make anyone available for an interview by press time. But when he signed the bill into law, Gov. Greg Abbott argued that it was necessary to keep dangerous criminals off the streets.

Supporters of the law point to people in the country illegally such as Julio Cesar Mendoza-Caballero, 33, a documented gang member who was released from the Travis County Jail this summer even though ICE agents wanted to hold him. Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez had adopted a policy of honoring only some ICE detainer requests, though her office says she is honoring all ICE detainer requests now that SB 4 is in effect.

Opponents point to the case of Juan Coronilla-Guerrero, 28, as showing a fatal consequence of a law they say needlessly separates families and erodes trust between police and immigrant communities. Coronilla-Guerrero, who was initially arrested in Austin on a misdemeanor assault charge, was deported to Mexico, despite warnings that sending him back would endanger his life. He was killed in September.

The Angelou Economics study, which could be cited in Tuesday’s court arguments, focuses on the financial case against SB 4.

It estimates that undocumented residents pay $2.7 billion in various state taxes — such as sales and gas tax, hotel occupancy fees and school property taxes — while using only $2 billion in government services, such as public education, emergency medical services and jail costs.

Those figures tell a different story from several studies cited in a 2016 report by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which concluded that “unauthorized immigrants consume more in terms of government services than they pay in taxes, due primarily to their low-income status.”

The Angelou Economics study also argues that the state’s economy would take a hit if it lost the estimated 1.15 million undocumented workers in Texas.

It cites figures from a Business Roundtable study on immigration policies, which estimated that Texas would lose 875,000 jobs over a decade if most undocumented residents were removed from the state, creating disruptions in construction, agriculture and other industries. Over a decade that would translate into a $78 billion decline in the value of goods and services produced in Texas, the study said.

The loss of those workers and services could slow the recovery from Hurricane Harvey. A quarter of the state’s construction workers are undocumented, the Angelou Economic study said, and as it is now, nearly 70 percent of Texas contractors are having trouble filling some of their positions.

“We are in support of border control and security, but undocumented Texans have lived here for many years, they are part of our state’s fabric and are integrated into our economy,” Angelos Angelou, principal executive officer at Angelou Economics, said in a statement issued with the report. “To deal with immigration, we must consider long-term solutions, rather than short sighted ones that threaten our social networks and economic strength.”

Additional material from local editor Bridget Grumet.

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