I am from the Rio Grande Valley, an area in South Texas defined by its blue collar, hardworking citizens and its close connection with Mexico. Positioned right on the U.S.-Mexico border, the Rio Grande Valley has many of the low-cost labor benefits that Mexico offers, with access to the full contract enforcement and specialized labor market that the U.S. offers. As a result, economic growth in the RGV has been explosive, and even endured through the 2008 recession. However, that robust growth may now be in serious peril since Texas may have ceded its advantage of easy access to cheap labor.
How did this happen? It is a result of the state’s recent enactment of Senate Bill 4, a law meant to secure borders by abolishing sanctuary cities. The bill also allows law enforcement officers to inquire about a person’s immigration status even if they are an innocent victim or witness — effectively barring undocumented immigrants from accessing protection from local and state police.
One can conclude that this legislation oppresses undocumented immigrants. The far-right members of the Texas Legislature seem set towards further persecuting a group of people whose presence benefits a number of huge labor-intensive industries in Texas from agriculture to energy, and their actions are gaining notice. Such stringent immigration rules provide a massive incentive to people who plan on immigrating to Texas to flock instead to a state like California.
That state has made headlines for its strong sanctuary city policies, and it does not seem likely to change them anytime soon. Texas conservatives may rejoice at the notion of undocumented immigrants choosing California over Texas — until they realize how much Texas industry relies on immigrants’ labor.
Not only do big-money industries rely heavily on work from undocumented immigrants, but a number of sectors in the Texas agriculture industry, like beef/dairy, are in direct competition with Californians.
The blossoming Texas wine industry could be deeply affected. California has always been the dominant domestic producer of wine, with approximately $24.6 billion of retail value in wine sales domestically. However, in the early 2000’s, the Texas wine industry began to develop, and since 2005 its growth has been almost exponential. From 2005 to 2015, the retail value of Texas wine grew 45 percent, to $133.3 million, and the number of growers grew 59 percent over the same period, to 350. The important figure to note is the increasing number of growers. Vineyards are labor intensive, and easy access to low-cost labor is crucial to their growth. For the time being, the expansion of the Texas wine industry will continue, but in a relatively short amount of time Texas vineyards may find themselves unable to compete with vineyards in California for lack of a cheap labor force.
Many Texans stood opposed to SB 4 because of the injustice it serves to undocumented immigrants, but to those who remained indifferent to those arguments: Know that this new initiative may have just ceded one of the state’s most valuable economic assets.