Immigration issue impacts business, economy

Panel discussion at NTC

Although it remains a hotly contested political issue, immigration is a boon to the North Texas economy and the business community prospers from it.

That’s according to a new report by the New American Economy, a bipartisan research organization.

The report found the region’s immigrant households – made up of 1.38 million individuals – earned about $43.8 billion in 2017. Immigrants paid $7.3 billion in federal taxes and $3.2 billion state and local taxes, the report said.

Immigrants represented about 48.7% of the workers in the construction industry. While more than 29% of workers in manufacturing and hospitality industry were immigrants.

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With 29.4% working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, immigrants were involved in high-skill jobs as well.

There were 102,884 immigrant entrepreneurs in North Texas, according to the report.

“Most Americans see immigration as a really good thing for our country,” said Jeremy Robbins, New American Economy executive director. “But, they’re anxious about it. The economy is changing so quickly and people are unstable.”

The report findings were released during a seminar hosted by the North Texas Commission on Wednesday. It was followed by a panel discussion with panelists: Jim Baron, CEO of Blue Mesa Grill; Juan Carlos Cerda, outreach manager of Texas Business Immigration Coalition; Laura Collins, a director at the George W. Bush Institute, and Francisco Hernandez, an immigration attorney.

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The panel’s consensus was that immigrants benefit the local and national economy, but they are hurt by a “broken” immigration system.

“Congress does come to agreement and compromise on these issues. In the various cases of immigration legislation that have been put forth over the last 20 years, it never goes anywhere,” Collins said. “Because we have arguments over, ‘how many people to bring in here?’ ‘How many people to bring over in the next two decades?'”

As the federal and state government looks to tighten and restrict migration into the U.S., many local industries have faced labor shortages that additional workforce might help.

Dallas Builders Association, for instance, says that the construction industry in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is undersupplied by almost 20,000 workers.

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According to the New American Economy report, 85.6% of the immigrant population in North Texas were of working age, as compared to 61.1% of the U.S.-born population. A larger percentage of the immigrant population held an advanced degree than their U.S.-born counterparts.

The report also shed light on undocumented immigrants.

North Texas had 575,350 undocumented immigrants in 2017. Almost 97% of that group was employed, while 40,965 were entrepreneurs.

The total undocumented households earned $11.5 billion and paid more than $1.2 billion in taxes.

“We have to start to dispel basic myths and that’s the conversation that needs to take place,” Baron said. “There is no line to get on, there is no work visa program in the United State. You can’t come in and be a dishwasher and get a visa.”