How might immigration reform affect the economy? These Texas business leaders weigh in.

Texas business leaders discuss immigration reform

With the announcement of new border security measures, some business leaders see a window for movement on more comprehensive changes to the nation’s immigration laws.

More than 40 small business owners, executives, investors, and entrepreneurs from Texas shared their views about immigration reform with Business Forward. 

Many share their difficulties verifying potential employees’ eligibility to work. Others speak about their troubles finding U.S.-born workers with appropriate skills. Some argue a path to citizenship for undocumented workers would expand the local tax base. Others contend that first we need to secure the border and prevent people from entering the country illegally.

What do you think: How would immigration reform affect your business, employees, and customers? Let us know by sharing your thoughts here.

AUSTIN

Malissa Anderson, Owner, EarthWorks Tiles, Burnet:
"Immigration reform must make it easier for people to stay employed legally. We are a nation of immigrants so we should make the process is as fair and equal and meaningful to them and to the United States as possible.”

Jay Applewhite, Managing Director, Industry Exchange LLC, Austin:
"There is a lot of unnecessary anxiety over immigration policy and potential changes to the strategic trade relationship between the United States and Mexico. While both are important, it is unfortunate that the two topics are being significantly criticized at the same time by the current administration. Although previous administrations tackled similar immigration issues, it was done while at the same promoting trade between our nations. Partnership is needed to advance on problems faced that both sides of the border. Mexican immigrants have contributed and continue to contribute significantly to the growth of the US economy. The US should strengthen the North American block and should always avoid any potential division of interests, culturally or economically."

Marina Bhargava, CEO, Austin Asian Chamber, Austin: 
"Until our education system can produce a workforce with skills that employers here need, Congress should expand the H1-B visa program. We would also like to see comprehensive reform that improves the work permit system for lower-skilled, labor-intensive positions that are challenging to fill, even at higher pay levels. Addressing these gaps in the U.S. workforce will help more companies succeed and boost the nation's economy.”

Carina Boston Pinales, Founder, I.O. Infinite Opportunities/Splash Coworking, San Marcos: 
"Working with start-ups has given me the experience to identify the value diversity brings and the vast innovation which comes from various walks of life. Foreign-born entrepreneurs also created an average of 760 U.S.-based jobs per company last year. Why would we suffocate the potential?"

Marie McGrath, CEO, Demand Lighting USA, Austin:
"My business complies with all of the required verification and identification of our employees as citizens. A border wall that is ultimately paid for by U.S. taxpayers is an incredible waste of money and will not solve any problems. Immigration reform should include a path to citizenship for undocumented people. This would help small businesses like mine grow and hire more workers.”

Symon Shelby, CEO, Texas Eco Cleaning Solutions, Round Top:
"Our current immigration system makes it difficult for business owners to verify and find skillful workers in various industries in my area. As a business owner I would like to make it easier for immigrants achieve legal citizenship through a company or business. From my experience, immigrant workers tend to invest a great deal of time and energy to the business they are striving to work for. And let's be honest, for the work they do from morning to night there aren't many American workers who can compete." 

DALLAS 

Karen Collins, Business Advisor, DCCCD, Dallas: 
"Our nation's immigration system is broken. There are people who live here and want to work here, so we should build a better system for legal immigration that allows people to work and pay into the system.”

Raj Devasigamani, CTO, Cilica, Allen:
"The success of American businesses depends on fair and legal admittance of skilled work force from around the world. America should focus on making it the most attractive destination of choice for the talented global workforce. America should be the leader in technology, healthcare and education. We can achieve this if our universities attract and welcome the best from around the globe, enrich their knowledge, and facilitate advanced research that will enhance quality of life around the world.”

Rick Dobbyn, Restaurant Owner, Izmir Holdings, Dallas:
"As an owner of restaurants in Texas, immigrants play an important and critical part in the success of our operations. They are some of my best employees -- hard workers who take pride in their jobs whether it is washing dishes, cooking food, or greeting our guests. The current immigration system has been broken for years and frustrates millions of people. It's time we streamline the process and create a national, comprehensive immigration policy. America is the greatest country in the world. Immigrants help to make it great.”

Katherine Chang Dress, VP Marketing, PDI Group, Dallas: 
"Our company has a shortage of skilled construction workers. We wish there were better ways to employ foreign workers with these skills. For example, there are many foreign students who are good workers, but after they're educated in the United States they can’t stay here. This doesn’t make sense. I'm an immigrant myself and I’ve had the opportunity to live the American dream, building a company and creating American jobs. We should encourage more of this.” 

Linda Ghaffari, CEO, Affinity Strategic Partners, Dallas:
"Sweeping reform is not the answer. It needs to be done thoughtfully and with research on impact to businesses and our economy. In many markets we are already short on workforce; additionally, the tone of the administration is going to hurt long-term relationships with nations and people we need on our side. The reality is that if terrorism is what we are afraid of, sweeping reform will not fix that. If anything, it will activate terror cells already within our country to act who might have not done so if this sweeping action had not happened. We need to make America safer, however, a broad brush will not do that.”

Christine Grudecki, Owner, Mobile Spa Squad, Grand Prairie:
"I own a small company and the way things are now, it's really challenging to determine if someone is legally eligible to work in the United States. If the verification system operated more effectively, I could dedicate more time to expanding my business and creating more jobs.”

Ben Kazora, President, Eastern Africa Diaspora Business Council, Richardson:
"Barring immigrants from the Arab nation of Sudan, an African country, is not only misguided but negatively impacts the U.S.-Africa trade balance. Such reforms give way to China and other nations to take advantage of the vast opportunities in Africa.”

Richard Meggs, CPA/President, Meggs Company CPA, Plano:
"My firm tries to hire qualified CPA candidates to work as accounting professionals, but with the current system it is very costly to get applicants green cards and allow them to work and pay taxes. I would like to see Washington reach out to the undocumented workers to get them work permits and tax the income.” 

Audrey Mross, Partner, Munck Wilson Mandala LLP, Dallas:
"As a labor and employment lawyer, I see my clients grappling with immigration challenges repeatedly. Employers are put in a tough spot upon learning that a long-term, valued employee is not 'legal' to work for them. We must find a sensible solution for simplifying the process for verifying eligibility to work and remove the incentive to use falsified documentation. We must also find a way to allow continuously employed individuals to remain employed, rather than forcing a termination of employment and nudging them into poverty, an underground economy, or worse.”

Paul Sawyer, Owner, Paul M Sawyer, P G, Dallas:
"I work around the world. Other trading countries look to us for leadership. If we restrict the number of people who can come here or the products they can sell here, they will restrict access to markets and people in turn. We can't isolate ourselves.”

JC Gonzalez, Vice President, Wells Fargo, Dallas: 
“Across the country and across Texas you can see how immigrants have contributed to starting innovative companies and creating more jobs. Policymakers reforming our immigration system must consider the tremendous benefits immigrants can bring to our economy and further support that economic growth.” 

EL PASO

Michael Gutierrez, Technologist, Unity Computers, El Paso:
"Currently my business experience, specifically on the border between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico is a positive one. Many of my clients run businesses on both sides of the border and the ability to go back and forth without difficulty is essential. My expectation is that Washington address the issue of naturalization, many of my customers and business colleagues have family members that are stuck in the gray zone of being non-citizens.”

John Kenemore, President and CEO, Battery Concepts International, Inc., El Paso:
"My small business works in both Mexico and the United States. We have employees from both countries working in their respective corporations. The ability to cross share skillsets would be invaluable. I am a U.S. citizen, while my wife is Mexican with U.S. residency. We have a unique and broader understanding of this issue, because this affects us from both sides of the border. Our policymakers must find a way to make our immigration system more efficient to help more companies and more families, as well as strengthen the United States and Mexico economies simultaneously. ” 

Robert Nachtman, Dean and Professor, University of Texas El Paso, El Paso:
"It can be really hard to find a sufficiently large number of employees with the skills we need. I hope immigration reform will make it easier for foreign students to stay in the United States and work--it's a huge missed opportunity now.”

Cindy Ramos Davidson, CEO, El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, El Paso: 
“Time and time again we have heard from our small, minority, women, and veteran owned businesses that one of the greatest challenges they face day to day is finding the talent necessary to operate efficiently and help them grow their business. Immigration reform that focuses not only on enhancing the security of our border, but also on increasing the number of visas available is essential to solving the issue of finding talent that so many of our businesses are facing. Balanced and comprehensive immigration reform is critical for the growth and continued success of Texas’ economy and our nation’s economy.”

HOUSTON

Hector Carreno, Managing Partner, Strategix Consulting, Houston:
"It's about time we fix the current immigration system. We need to treat all residents, both legal and undocumented, in the United States with respect.”

Michael Clarke, Principal, Blue C Studios, Houston:
"My business uses contractors for design and tech positions. Over the more than 20 years I have had this business, I have relied on green card holders from Latin America, Europe and Africa to fulfill my clients' needs. I am concerned that our current direction in immigration reform will use a sweeping blunt force approach that either limits the talent available for my projects or discourages them from choosing to come here.” 

Jose Carlos Gonzalez, Principal, Gonzalez & Associates, Houston:
"The Texas economy is closely interwoven with the Mexican economy--and it has benefitted us both. Mexico is the number one destination for Texas exports. Immigration reform should be a priority in Washington, but building a wall is the wrong way to go. The United States cannot isolate itself without hurting the economy.”

Marylyn Harris, Executive Director, Women Veterans Business Center, Houston:
"Our country loses substantial talent with our current immigration laws and policies. We must improve our immigration system so that more employers can hire and retain a productive workforce. This will make our whole economy stronger.”

Yasser Hosny, Executive Director, GVOS, Inc., Stafford:
"Introducing new entrepreneurial startups is the key factor to boost the economy. Many entrepreneurs are immigrants, so making a path to legal status would attract more startups in addition to increasing tax bases. Immigration reform needs to be tailored to each state's economic development needs and plans.”

Lisa Phillip, President, Hybas Int'l, LLC, Houston: 
“As an exporter, this topic is very important to my company.  Targeting specific countries to restrict their entry into the U.S. can also restrict the reach of the concept, “Global Economy.”   When we restrict people entering the US from specific countries, we are also restricting the continuation of building relationships with vital trading partners.  Mexico is a vital trading partner for Texas.  We have to be careful not to alienate these partners  so that they will not alienate the U.S. as trading partners and become familiar with other country’s trading practices.” 

John Vandy, President, Exotex Pipe, Houston: 
"We sell our proprietary pipe technology in and outside the United States, and we need a credible and predictable immigration system to base our relationships and business strategy on. Washington has stalled on immigration reform for decades--we must take advantage of this opportunity and take care of the broad range of dire issues.”

Helder Waiandt, CEO, SWOT Action, Spring:
"My small business works with foreign companies who wish to expand. Immigration is one of the first subjects brought to the table. Every foreign company wants to understand what would happen if they decided to move permanently to the United States. The process now is so unpredictable and that's bad for business. We need a more stable immigration system to support businesses and grow our economy.”

McALLEN

Lucia Valdez, CEO, OMA Industries LLC, McAllen:
“Building a wall along the U.S-Mexico border would not solve any immigration issues. I believe it would only further drive down wages in both countries. Improving education and workforce development would be a better strategy for creating good jobs and reducing poverty.”

SAN ANTONIO

Ernesto Almada, Owner, Amex Wholesaler, Corp., San Antonio:
“It's very hard to hire somebody from overseas to help in my business. I hope immigration reform will address the real challenges small businesses like mine face and improve the process for hiring temporary workers.”

Luis Alvarez, President, Lancer Corp., San Antonio: 
“Texas businesses know that that our border with Mexico is a tremendous opportunity, not a threat. Mexico is one of the top countries we export to and we’ve hired Mexican immigrants to work in our manufacturing facility. I fear building a wall would damage the progress we’ve made in expanding our small business and hope national policymakers will make more sensible changes to our immigration system to support our economy.”

Jorge Canavati, President, J. Canavati & Co. LLC, San Antonio:
“World economies and international commerce are intrinsically linked at various levels to the migration of people. The movement of cultures and individuals' expertise in many fields lend to the betterment and enrichment of our societies. This phenomena has created the 'Global Village.' We are at the doorstep of retracting many of these advancements in the name of national security. This is a gross mistake for which the United States will pay a large economic and social price.”

Rick Daniels, Member, Caino Real District Export Council, San Antonio, TX: 
"Our country is in serious need of Immigration Reform. But, Immigration reform can only follow Economic Reform. We need to re-repatriate billions of dollars in funds held overseas and lower our corporate tax bracket in-order-to create new jobs and thereby prepare to welcome additional immigrants to our work force." 

Joan Dixon, CFO, Morningside Ministries, San Antonio:
"Our senior living communities are constantly struggling to hire more employees for the daily care of elderly residents. These are lower paid positions that U.S.-born workers are less interested in. I wish the system made it easier to hire immigrant workers.”

Susan Jaime, Owner, Ferra Coffee International LLC, San Antonio: 
“Mexico is of such strategic and financial strength to the U.S. economy, it is crucial we do all we can to protect our relationship. My business relies on the Mexican coffee grower for our sales of coffee here in the United States and our international clients, the last thing I need is to have any of our growers angry at U.S. buyers and have them sell to buyers from countries that pay them more respect. Protecting our borders is important, but building a wall is not the answer—it would damage our economy.”

Anna Marie Lopez, Owner, The Artful Olive & The Wild Vine, San Antonio:
"My small company mostly sells at farmer's markets. For my business to grow, I need to hire people for low-paid, hard-labor jobs and it's difficult to find U.S.-born workers willing to take those jobs. I hope immigration reform will include a better way for undocumented immigrants to join the legal workforce.” 

G.C. Saldana, Owner, City Concrete, Converse:
"Immigration reform would help my company and the national economy. There are many families that are rooted in our community and are active participants in the growth of our economy, but they’re constantly concerned about their immigration status. If we could create a path to citizenship for more undocumented immigrants, more small businesses like mine could grow.”

Ricardo Martinez, President, SIMSA, San Antonio:
"The United States is isolating itself from the rest of the world. Who will substitute hard working agricultural people? Americans? Not allowing citizens into the US based on race or religion is retrograde and will make International Foreign affairs very difficult. At the end, the American people will pay a very high price."

Jorge Sanchez, President & CEO, SANA International Commerce, Inc., San Antonio:
"Our company exports to other countries and we would like to hire sales personnel from these countries, as they are the ones who know their markets better. This will give us more potential to export by selling more U.S. manufactured products, creating more jobs for citizens. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to hire migrant workers who are already living in the country. I suggest that immigration reform be done so that it is easier to hire some of the many highly trained immigrants who would be a positive contribution to the economy and contribute to our development and growth in international relations, as they know both American values and their migrant country values. If these immigrants can be more easily integrated into society it would be a positive attribution to the nation.”

WACO

Jessica Attas, Director of Public Policy, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, Waco:
"The Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce supports immigration reform that leads to expanded access to student, worker, and investor visas. Our existing local employers, like employers across the country, are in need of educated, skilled workers to ensure our great nation remains an innovative leader in the 21st economy. Having access to these workers and investors is vitally important to the work we do to retain and attract new business investments to the area and grow our regional economy.”

Charles Perkins Sr, Director-Coach-Owner, Music & Math Masters Studio, Woodway:
"Fear of deportation grips several of my customers who usually pay cash for goods and services. If I were selfish, I would ignore their plight and rush to the bank. However, I have compassion for them, and prefer that they come out of the shadows and freely contribute their skills and resources for the overall welfare of the nation. Count me in for 100 percent support to immigration reform, immediately.”

Posted In: Immigration Reform