Texas Business Leaders Discuss Economics of Immigration and Call for Sensible Immigration Policy

Texas business leaders discussed the economic impacts of immigration on Texas and called for sensible immigration legislation like a permanent fix for DACA and a method to ID and Tax unauthorized immigrants during a recent webinar hosted by FWD.us

A clear point of consensus among speakers was that immigrants play a complementary role in Texas’ workforce and are crucial to its overall economic growth and development.

The impact of immigrants is huge. There is not a business or industry that you encounter that doesn’t rely on an immigrant in one way or another to operate that business… Our economic competitiveness at our core and our ability to recover from COVID-19 and move forward relies on the immigrants who are here in our state whose skills are critical… from agriculture to construction, from manufacturing to technology and healthcare, and beyond,” said Aaron Cox, Interim COO and Senior Vice President at the Texas Association of Business.

As we look at the next 15 years and the growth of our state, I have no doubt that in two or three years we’re going to be in a labor shortage situation again and we ought to start planning for that now… Immigrants represent about 25% of our population in the Houston area but about a third of our workforce… If you take the growth trends and project them forward they’re going to be about 40% of the workforce going forward. Finding ways of attracting and integrating those immigrants into the workforce will be key to our economic growth and future,” said Brett Perlman, CEO at Center for Houston’s Future.

$38.6 billion is what immigrants pay across the state in state and federal taxes. $113 billion they have in spending powers, that’s a huge segment,” said Chris Wallace, President & CEO of the North Texas Commission.

51 cents out of every food dollar is spent through a restaurant, so when you take that and you start to think of the impact of foreign born workers on the restaurant industry, it’s tremendous… Across America we have about 2.3 million foreign born workers in our industry… about 43% of our chefs are foreign born. That’s huge… 24% of our managers are foreign born, and 29% of our owners are foreign born. We wouldn’t have much of a restaurant industry without these folks coming in...sensible immigration policy is critical. When you take restaurants out of the community then you take food out of the community. It’s critical,” said Melissa Stewart, Executive Director of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association.

Speakers also pointed out some additional tangible benefits that immigrants have for Texas.

Houston is our most diverse city in America, and that’s also why we’re the most delicious city in America. You don’t get one without the other…people go to Epcot to taste the flavors of the world, and we go and it’s less flavors than we have in 2 blocks from our house,” said Stewart.

In terms of legislative recommendations, speakers called for a solution to provide permanent legal status to DACA recipients, who were brought to the US illegally by their parents as children many years ago.

First and foremost is a permanent solution to DACA. A great program, there are more than 100,000 DACA recipients right here in the great state of Texas… They are teachers, they’re frontline workers, there are over 30,000 healthcare workers. We must have a solution for DACA,” said Wallace.

The business leaders also called for legislation to ID and tax the 11 million unauthorized workers in the US today by creating a conditional method for them to earn their legal status so they can work legally for employers who pay taxes.

Extend that idea to the 11 million undocumented workers and create what we call a tax and ID solution that one of our board members Stan Marek has been championing,” said Perlman.

At the state level, the speakers called for legislation and policies that allow immigrants to feel safe and secure in Texas and help them reach their full potential.

Dealing with the culture of fear that has been created in a lot of these immigrant communities, and that goes back to SB4...people are afraid to go to the emergency room, which creates a healthcare crisis. We should create an environment where undocumented immigrants can go the doctor, police, and live a normal life. We need a need a different attitude where people can walk outside without feeling they’ll be prosecuted or arrested,” said Perlman.

They also pointed out how allowing unauthorized immigrants to obtain drivers permits could help the Texas economy in its recovery from COVID-19 and the energy crisis.

We like to look at Texas economy and business community overall in terms of cautious optimism,” said Cox, while pointing out that Texas will be facing a budget deficit for the first time in a long time and will need to make up some of that lost revenue.

A great way to address budget concerns would be allowing undocumented immigrants in Texas to obtain driver’s permits,” pointed out Zaira Garcia, Texas State Director at FWD.us

The power of the driver’s license. It really does take care of a lot of issues that folks have. It’s good for the people who can get the license, but it’s also good for the people who are on the roads with these drivers… reliable transportation is critical,” added Stewart.

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