There is no shortage of data on the ways in which immigration has added value to the Texas economy. As workers, taxpayers, consumers, and entrepreneurs, immigrants contribute billions of dollars to the state each year. And, contrary to popular stereotype, the contributions of immigrants are not confined to the labor of low-wage workers in construction and food service, but also encompass highly skilled professionals and business owners in science, technology, and engineering.

Adding to this body of evidence is a new report from the Center for Public Policy Priorities which details the many ways in which “immigrants in Texas are major drivers of the state’s economy.” Among the findings of the report:

  • There are more than 4.2 million immigrants in Texas—roughly one-third of whom are naturalized U.S. citizens eligible to vote. Plus, nearly one-third are lawful permanent residents of the United States.
  • “Mixed-status” families are ubiquitous in the state. About 2 million U.S.-born Texas children have at least one parent who lacks legal status.
  • Immigrants are more likely to be of “prime working age” than the older native-born population, and have higher rates of labor-force participation. As a result, they play an outsize role in the Texas workforce. While immigrants comprise 16.5 percent of the state’s population, they account for 21.2 percent of all workers.
  • “Small businesses owned by immigrants contributed $4.4 billion in earnings to the state’s economy in 2011. This accounts for almost a fifth of total small business earnings.”
  • “In 2011, immigrants contributed $65 billion in economic output to the state in terms of wages, salary, and business earnings.”
  • Citing the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the report notes that unauthorized immigrants in Texas paid more than $1.6 billion in state and local taxes in 2010.
  • “Texas is home to the 4th largest highly educated/skilled workforce in the country after California, New York, and Florida.” They hold jobs in a diverse range of occupations, including healthcare, engineering, and finance.
  • 37 percent of immigrants work in white-collar jobs, although the biggest employers of immigrants include construction, food service, housekeeping, and childcare.

The report pays special attention to a 2001 state policy that allows young unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges. The policy has been an overwhelming success in expanding access to higher education: “Among undocumented students who entered public universities in 2007 under the in-state tuition policy, the degree completion rate is higher, at 63 percent, than the overall statewide rate of 59 percent.” In light of statistics such as these, the report laments the fact that ongoing policy discussions at the state level are focused on whether or not to roll back access to public education for students who are unauthorized immigrants.

As the report explains, an in-state tuition policy amounts to a prudent investment in the future workforce of the state. The same is also true of any other policy that impacts immigrants:

“The policy choices ahead as Texas moves toward the next legislative session should be designed to enhance and build upon the contributions of Texas immigrants as workers, parents, taxpayers, students and community leaders. Policies that promote the health and well-being of immigrants also will strengthen the broader Texas community. Access to education and well-paying jobs are the keys to moving up the economic ladder for all Texans, including immigrants.”

In other words, when immigrants play a pivotal role in your state’s economy—both now and looking to the future—it pays to help them become more productive. Beating them down with anti-immigrant policies is economically self-destructive.

Photo by ctj71081.

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