While the 1,254-mile Texas-Mexico border staffs 10,570 patrol agents, who constitute 49 percent of the United States Border Patrol, thousands of people illegally cross into Texas and other parts of the U.S. every year and their fates remain uncertain.
A June Senate immigration reform bill that would grant the 11 million undocumented U.S. immigrants immediate legal status and a path to citizenship and allocate $30 billion to Mexican border security sits idle in the House, and at least one local resident is frustrated.
“The congressmen are trying to make it difficult,” said Rudy Calooy, who teaches citizenship classes on Saturdays at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Killeen. “I think the path of citizenship should be granted, should be given. They have to remember their parents were immigrants, too. Their parents went through hell to become American citizens.”
National lawmakers from Texas said laws should attract immigrants, but added that citizenship should be given only after specific border security initiatives are outlined and met.
U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, represents most of Bell County and is part of a group working on a bill to solidify the border, punish people who cross illegally, use an online system to identify legal workers and provide legal avenues to people who want to work in the U.S., according to a statement from his press office.
Opportunities at Fort Hood could bring more immigrants to the area, said his fellow Congressman Roger Williams, whose district includes Coryell County, part of Killeen and most of Fort Hood.
“We all feel like we live in the greatest state in America, but people are coming here,” he said. “You can’t blame them. … We want people to come to America; we want people to come to Texas. Let’s do it legally ... and let’s know who’s coming and who’s leaving.”
By the numbers
Killeen’s foreign-born population rose about 40 percent between 2000 and 2011, from 8,992 to 12,564 people, according to census data.
Among other security standards, the Senate bill called for continuous surveillance of the entire border, a 90 percent illegal crossing prevention rate, 700 miles of fencing and the hiring of 19,200 border patrol agents. Before unauthorized immigrants start a path of citizenship, 38,405 full-time border agents would have to patrol the southern border, and other benchmarks would be required.
“You talk to law enforcement along our border, they say we don’t need that many people,” Williams said. “The people who know best are our sheriffs and law enforcement people. We need to engage them.”
An estimated 1.65 million undocumented immigrants live in Texas, accounting for about 15 percent of the total U.S. undocumented immigrant population, according to Pew Hispanic Center data released by the Migration Policy Institute. Texas has the second-largest population of undocumented immigrants behind California’s 2.55 million. About 5 percent of Calooy’s 72 students in the citizenship class are undocumented, he said.
Immigrants, including undocumented ones, boost and drag different sectors of local economies, said Migration Policy Institute Senior Vice President Michael Fix.
“To the extent that undocumented immigrants take wages, the one group that loses out the most is other recent immigrants.”
To a lesser extent, immigrants also displace native workers who did not finish high school, Fix said. But lower production costs reduce the price of goods, and undocumented immigrants consume fewer health services than citizens.
School districts sustain the most financial burden from undocumented immigrants, Fix said.
“They might not be doctors, lawyers and scientists,” Calooy said. “These ones working in the field are the ones who feed the scientists, lawyers and doctors. Everything equalizes in that manner.”