Immigration reform would save states money and boost domestic economic growth, say two former Republican governors.
“It will take the burden off us,” said Haley Barbour, former governor of Mississippi, who joined former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at a June 13 immigration forum hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Without a federal solution, Barbour said, states will continue to face the costs associated with providing emergency room care and K-12 public education to undocumented immigrants.
“We have the ability to rebuild our demographic pyramid right now, which has eroded dramatically with declining fertility rates,” Bush said. “There are other elements of an economic growth strategy, but without immigration, I don’t see how we could do it,” said Bush, who co-authored the book, Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution, earlier this year. Bush later cited Detroit, one of many U.S. cities experiencing decades of population decline, as a place that would benefit from an influx of young immigrants ready to work.
“What roles should states play?” asked Curt Bramble, the Utah Senate President Pro Tem, who attended the event. Bramble noted that states such as Utah have granted undocumented immigrants both special driving cards and in-state university tuition in recent years. If Congress doesn’t pass a new law, state capitols would continue to act in its stead, Bramble said.
Lobbying groups for counties and cities, such as the National League of Cities, have passed resolutions supporting comprehensive immigration reform. Some state leaders in Arizona, Iowa, Indiana, Colorado and Utah have drafted "compacts" that outline principles for fixing the immigration system, along with signatures from members of local political, union, religious, business and law enforcement communities. Bramble said states can also encourage their Congressional delegations “to be statesmen” and pass a federal bill.
Governing's Nichole Russell contributed to this report.