By Linda Corchado & Bob Sanborn
The data is clear. A third of Texas’ nearly 8 million children are immigrants or the children of immigrants. In our cities, like Houston, the number is about half of our children. If children are our future then our path forward as a state involves immigrants. Yet a majority of Texas still seems to regard immigration as our number one problem.
The numbers and history tell a very different story.
Immigrants annually contribute $119 billion to our Texas economy, making our state the second highest in the nation to rake in the tax contributions from immigrant labor. In Houston, Baytown and Sugarland, 51% of our business have immigrant owners. Immigrants fuel our schools with funding through Title III. In a landscape where much of our country’s population is aging, immigrants are keeping us younger, in 2020, the percentage of population 65 and older in Texas was 13.2%, the third lowest among all states in the nation.
This is the power of the immigrant labor force in our economy. Yet our immigration laws and policies have yet to embrace this reality. Instead, critical programs that have proven to fuel our economy and society, like the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA – is unknown. DACA is on the chopping block in our Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Ending DACA would create an incredible burden to our economy where DACA recipients alone contribute $436.8 million in state and local taxes. The American Medical Association found that if physician trainees and physicians who are DACA recipients retain their work eligibility, each will touch the lives of 1.7 to 5.1 million U.S. patients over the course of their careers. Texas ranks second in the nation to reap the benefits of DACA recipients working in health care.
We need to advocate for policies that build up our immigrant population and their contributions, not tear them down. Protecting DACA is a necessary first step, so is removing the bureaucratic barriers that make it impossible for employers to lawfully employ a ready workforce. But advocacy mustn’t and shouldn’t end in courtrooms or legislative chambers in D.C. or Austin, advocacy starts in our schools and our communities.
Look no further than Fort Bend County, Houston’s affluent suburb is the wealthiest county in Texas. It is also the most truly diverse county in America. About a quarter of Fort Bend’s population is white, another quarter black, another quarter Latino and another quarter Asian. Immigrants make up a sizable portion of its success and wealth; it is a true picture of the power and the reality of immigration in Texas.
In border communities like the Rio Grande Valley, we have the some of the highest performing schools and the highest advanced placement participation in the state, all while serving a higher share of economically disadvantaged students. These schools form part of our Gold Ribbon Schools.
Gold Ribbon schools reinforce the belief that all students are capable of succeeding. They ensure robust communications with families, no matter their immigration status or language barriers. Stakeholders and community leaders rally around their students to provide additional resources where Texas funding formulas fail them. Where others see setbacks, leaders at Gold Ribbon schools create opportunities. These principles, fueled by a determination to ensure all children tap into their highest potential for success should be the backbone of our immigration policies.
While the strength of immigrants is clearly shown through their economic contributions, ultimately, we aren’t talking about figures, we are talking about families – fellow Texans who make our state great, our communities stronger and our futures brighter. Our future matters, our children matter, and immigration is tied to both. While policy makers may not get “it,” our education and community leaders do and they’re creating American models that we could all learn from.
Linda Corchado is the Director of the Children’s Immigration Network at CHILDREN AT RISK. Bob Sanborn is the President & CEO of CHILDREN AT RISK, a Texas based, non-partisan research and advocacy group.