Entrepreneurs and Educated Workers Changing the Face of Texas' Immigrant Population

After being inundated with images of poverty stricken unaccompanied Central American children this summer, you might be surprised to learn that the stereotype of the poor working class immigrant is rapidly changing in Texas. The growing demographic, it turns out, are educated and highly skilled -- and the Texas economy is increasingly dependent on their money.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities released a report last week that pointed out the economic virility of the immigrant workforce. Small immigrant-owned businesses brought in $4.4 billion in revenue to the Texas economy last fiscal year.

Texas has one of the biggest populations of highly educated and skilled immigrant workforces in the country; 37 percent of all immigrants work in white collar jobs. Among immigrants in Texas, 27.1 percent hold at least one degree, compared with the marginally higher 27.7 percent of citizens in Texas who hold degrees.

The bulk of the immigrant population in Texas, 58 percent, are from Mexico. And many highly educated Mexican immigrants are increasingly flocking to North Texas. The Dallas chapter for the Association of Mexican Entrepreneurs was founded two years ago as a networking organization for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, mostly businessmen and women, attorneys, bankers.

Many of these immigrants were successful entrepreneurs in Mexico and were able to pay the hefty price of the special investor visa -- anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million that investors drop into the Texas economy through business transplants, in exchange for a green card. Gerardo Garza is one of the founding members of AEM. His story is indicative of the changing face of immigration -- some through investor visas and others, like Garza, who were lucky enough to have company transfers or business connections.

Originally from Mexico City, Garza now works with a Dallas financial firm. "The job market slowed way down with the Tequila crisis," he says, but he circumvented the struggling economy to build a successful career as a banker in Mexico. After expressing interest to move to the United States, he was relocated from Monterrey to Dallas in 2001, and has made his permanent home here.

Garza has two degrees, and nearly everyone involved with AEM has at least one degree. Still, the group's demographic is reflective of a growing population of immigrants.

"We have incredibly successful immigrants who are driving innovation and helping out with the economy boom," says Ann Beeson, an analyst for CPPP. "There's not any question that they bring a huge amount of money, and without it there would be a significantly negative impact on the economy. We're counting on these businesses to drive the economy."

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Emily Mathis