Trump's promise to deport millions of immigrants would turn Texas upside down

Texans depend on immigrants, including illegal immigrants. Donald Trump's promise of mass deportations may appeal to some voters, but it would have serious consequences.


As Texans rebuild their storm-damaged homes and businesses, many of the workers they call on will be immigrants. Some will be undocumented. They may not be there to help under a second Donald Trump presidency. The former president has revived threats made in 2016, promising to deport the country's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. He has called for the use of the National Guard, local police and perhaps the military to carry out the deportations and flirted with the idea of ​​setting up detention camps.

This fantasy will appeal to many voters. Illegal immigration is one of the biggest concerns of Americans. In the last two years, record numbers of illegal immigrants have been arrested at the southern border. At the same time, Governor Greg Abbott has leapt into the top ranks of Republican politics thanks to the costly and high-profile Operation Lone Star.

But mass deportations would have serious consequences for Texas. Immigrants – whether legal or illegal, highly educated or low-skilled – are essential to our workforce. In February 2024, the nonprofit organization Every Texan reported that immigrants and asylum seekers in Texas pay $2.6 million more in state and local taxes per 1,000 workers in the first year of their eligibility. Once they receive a work permit, new immigrants in Texas earn an average of $20,000 in the first year and $29,000 in the fifth year.

Illegal workers also bring a net cost benefit, researcher Jose Ivan Rodriguez-Sanchez found in a 2020 report for the Baker Institute for Public Policy. Fully calculating the costs and benefits of immigration, direct and indirect, is a complex task. But Rodriguez-Sanchez found that in 2018, workers from Texas' estimated 1.6 million undocumented residents made up 8.2 percent of the state's workforce. These immigrants generated costs for education, health care, and incarceration. But their unemployment rate was 5.7%, and overall, the revenue they brought to Texas exceeded the state's spending on them for public services, with an estimated net benefit of $420.9 million in fiscal year 2018. For every dollar spent on public services for illegal immigrants, illegal immigrants brought Texas $1.21 in state revenue.

These immigrants are deeply rooted in Texas culture. Nationwide, an estimated 62 percent of illegal immigrants have lived in the country for at least 10 years. In 2018, 1.4 million U.S. citizens lived in Texas with at least one undocumented relative.

Long-established populations with deep roots in the United States

“This is a long-standing population with deep roots in the United States,” said Michelle Mittelstadt, communications director for the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. “People with children born in the United States who have been in their jobs for many years, who have started businesses and employ workers, including U.S. workers, who have homes and loans.”

Laying off workers en masse would devastate Texas businesses, particularly restaurants and construction companies. “The construction industry is perhaps the most dependent on undocumented workers,” said author Loren Steffy, an expert on Texas immigrants and the construction industry. Commercial construction companies, he explained, must ask unions to provide the workers they need. But unions often don't have enough workers to offer. Contractors can then use other workers and typically turn to labor brokers — who typically supply undocumented workers.

But these dilemmas are rarely made public by business owners. The aggressive political rhetoric surrounding immigration is too threatening. One exception is Houston construction contractor Stan Marek, with whom Steffy wrote a book. One of Marek's common-sense proposals: an ID system that would issue illegal workers with tamper-proof IDs that would allow them to work only for employers who pay payroll taxes and withhold federal income tax from workers' salaries. This would also allow employers to invest in training.

Companies in Texas must be able to honestly disclose their labor needs

For real policy change to happen, Texas businesses must be open about their needs. That could start with stronger activism at the state level by a consortium of Texas business interests that rely on immigrant workers and customers, said national corporate immigration advocate Laura Reiff. The group should include leaders in agriculture, high-tech, health care, hospitality, higher education and construction. That's especially urgent because migration itself has changed. At the Texas-Mexico border, a migration stream once dominated by male workers from Mexico now includes a large share of families and unaccompanied children, many of whom are seeking asylum. In 2023, 51 percent came from outside Mexico and Central America. Texas and the nation need a new, hemispheric approach to adapt our society — and our businesses — to these immense changes.

Texans rightly want to modernize the immigration system. But as the editors have already noted, this goal cannot be achieved by turning the border into a military front.

Nor is Trump's fantastic deportation plan, which could cost 30 percent of the Pentagon's 2024 budget, effective. And that's before the recession that would likely be triggered by losing so many workers from the economy. Instead, businesses deserve lawmakers who respect their labor needs. Communities need politicians who honor their families and institutions. And Texas needs workers who are treated and paid decently and who can keep Texas growing through storm and storm.