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Migrant farm workers harvest sod on a farm outside Guy, Texas. Photo: Bob Nichols/USDA.
Migrant farm workers harvest sod on a farm outside Guy, Texas. Photo: Bob Nichols/USDA.

Immigrants: Targets of violence, but major economic contributors in the Lone Star State

Combined, legal and illegal immigrants contribute billions to Texas’ economy.

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This weekend marked yet another low point in the national rhetoric surrounding immigration in the U.S. On Saturday, August 3, a domestic terrorist, acting on a manifesto that decried a “Hispanic invasion” of Texas, proceeded to walk into a Walmart in El Paso armed with an assault rifle and killed 22 people, eight of which were Mexican nationals. 

Law enforcement is investigating as to whether the shooter — who was captured alive — will face hate crime charges for targeting Hispanics. Mexico has also since threatened legal action against the U.S. for failing to protect its citizens.

The terrorist, a 21-year-old white man, was acting on the fear of immigrants that has been brought to a boiling point since Donald Trump took office in 2016 with his rhetoric of “bad hombres” infiltrating the country. 

But if Trump was a quarter of the businessman he proclaims himself to be, he’d realize the positive economic impact of immigrants coming from south of the border and beyond, and welcome them with open arms.

Just look at Texas, where the shooting occurred.

According to a 2017 study done by the American Immigration Council, there were 4.7 million immigrants in Texas in 2015, making up 17% of the population. Of that 4.7 million, 1.7 million were undocumented.

Overall, immigrants comprise more than a fifth of the state’s overall workforce, with almost 250,000 being undocumented. 

Many like to blame this population for the lack of jobs for American citizens, but without them, economist Ray Perryman told The Dallas Morning News that “there would be a labor shortage in Texas, even if every unemployed person were working in a job now filled by an immigrant.” 

Texas has a population of approximately 29 million and an unemployment rate of 3.6%.

In terms of tax contributions, immigrant-led households in Texas paid $20.4 billion in federal taxes and $8.7 billion in state and local taxes in 2014. Undocumented immigrants paid $1.6 billion in state and local taxes.

This support granted by the immigrant influx is even more impactful considering how it has turned back the clock on some of Texas’ panhandle towns along the northern state border, transforming them into “agricultural boomtowns” according to a January 2019 article by The Texas Observer.

The article focuses on Dalhart, Texas, a town with a population of close to 8,000, approximately 30 minutes from the Texas, Oklahoma border. The major agricultural products coming from Dalhart are potatoes, milk, and cheese, and a majority of those who work in the factories and on farms that export the goods are immigrants — mostly from Mexico and Central America.

The hours in these jobs are long and unattractive, but to immigrants, they provide an opportunity to provide for families back across the border.

“What I make here in a day, I can’t make in a week back home,” Mexican immigrant Luis Ramos told The Texas Observer, who works in the middle of the night to harvest potatoes on a farm near Dalhart.

Most workers in Dalhart are either undocumented or in the country on an eight-month work visa. Their presence has also opened up the town to more industries that particularly target the culture of the immigrant population. 

Everything from taquerias serving authentic regional Mexican food to boutiques and dress shops for quinceañeras has followed the immigrants to the small Texas town. These changes have brought even more people and jobs to Dalhart — and it’s just one of the places this is happening in Texas.

When looked at in this light, the “invasion” touted by the terrorist in El Paso and shrouded by President Trump seems nothing of the sort. These immigrants have not “replaced” American life, but saved it.

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