Random Ephemera

What Would Happen To Houston If Trump Deports Most Undocumented Immigrants?

Donald Trump won the election, riding high on a wave of voter anxiety and discontent, harnessing long-simmering resentments some Americans have toward Muslims and undocumented immigrants along the way. Now he's about to be our President, and we're left to wonder what will happen with his vow to ban many Muslims from entering the country, and to deport millions of other people living in the United States illegally.

So what might happen to Houston if President Trump were to make good on his promises to exclude Muslims and deport millions of undocumented people from America? What could we reasonably expect if such a scenario were to come to pass? Houston is the nation's most racially and ethnically diverse city, so would life here be very different after a Trumpian purge? Here are a few things remaining residents would probably experience.

click to enlarge Say hello to higher prices at the grocery store if Trump deports most of the U.S.'s undocumented immigrants. - PHOTO BY U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Say hello to higher prices at the grocery store if Trump deports most of the U.S.'s undocumented immigrants.

3. Lots of Stuff Would Suddenly Be More Expensive.

Texas has always had a close relationship with Mexico and other countries south of our border; we've participated in an ongoing cultural exchange that's as old as the state itself, and while some folks have long complained about "illegals", most of us have enjoyed the good food, lower prices due to cheap labor, and other benefits that go hand in hand with having a large population of undocumented people living here.

A lot of the more hardcore "deport all the illegals!" advocates seem to believe that if America were to rewind time to some utopian era where brown people from non-English speaking countries weren't living here in huge numbers than we'd (white people, mostly) all be better off.

However, nativist racism aside, that kind of return to an earlier state of being would have major real-world cultural and economic consequences. The idea of rolling back time to an era where millions of undocumented people weren't living here, somehow erasing a bunch of perceived social ills, without also experiencing negative consequences sounds like science fiction. In 2008, a report by the Pew Hispanic Center forecast that Texas would stand to lose $69.3 billion dollars if its undocumented immigrants were removed. That was almost ten years ago, and last month the National Bureau of Economic Research released a paper estimating that undocumented workers are responsible for 3 percent of the U.S. economy.

According to the Pew Research Center, undocumented workers represent 8.5 percent of the Texas workforce, making us dependent on them, particularly for construction, hospitality, and agricultural labor. An article in Reporting Texas makes the point that immigrant workers perform important roles that American workers don't or can't; often filling jobs that require workers to relocate often. The article also cites a recent estimate from the Austin-based Workers Defense Project, that undocumented immigrants make up half of the state's construction industry workforce.

The closer a person looks at the labor side of this issue, the more it becomes clear that eliminating undocumented immigrant labor would have cataclysmic repercussions on this state. New construction costs would skyrocket, and there might be a shortage of workers, creating an eventual slowdown in new construction and a housing shortage. We might see agricultural costs skyrocket, which would hit many Texans in their pocketbooks at the grocery store, and hotel and restaurants would likely be forced to raise their prices too. For Texas, the literal costs of a massive deportation of workers would be massive.

Before I'm drowned out by a chorus of "They took our jerbs!"; the truth is a lot more nuanced than that, and it doesn't change the fact that most Americans no longer want to do the kind of jobs that undocumented laborers largely do. The rising expense of construction and food would probably be a lot more vexing to most Texans than having to compete with undocumented workers for jobs. Most studies show that most citizens who have seen their economic prospects affected by undocumented workers are those without a high school diploma. Educational initiatives to provide them with higher skills would probably go further at improving their lives than blaming immigrant workers.

Some will point to studies showing that undocumented immigrants are a drain on our system, although most of the largest estimates of how much they might cost the country in social services (including Trump's $113 billion claim) come from sources seeking to reduce or eliminate illegal immigration; the point being, those sources aren't exactly unbiased, and tend to include the American citizen children of undocumented people in their estimates. Some other economists see helping those kids to be an investment in the nation's future. In any case, our state's current economy depends heavily on undocumented workers, so deporting most of them would have major repercussions here.

click to enlarge Halal Louisiana style fried chicken? Modern day Houston is an amazing cultural melting pot, and better because of that - PHOTO BY CHRIS LANE
Halal Louisiana style fried chicken? Modern day Houston is an amazing cultural melting pot, and better because of that
Photo by Chris Lane

2. We'd Get to Witness A Rise Of Paranoia And Fear.

All I have to do to see the amazing diversity of people living in Houston is to drive around my neighborhood in Sharpstown. My next door neighbors are Muslims, and many others are Hispanic or originally emigrated here from Africa,Vietnam, or China. The area is an interesting mix of people from all over the world, and I wouldn't want it any other way. I also wouldn't want anyone to get deported or put on some kind of list, nor would I enjoy knowing that my neighbors might be experiencing anxiety over the prospect of being ousted from their homes or made to feel like they're unwelcome because of their religion. That's... Just not an America, or a Houston, I can get behind.

Sure, we need to fix our broken immigration system, and bring more people out of the shadows, but if the main prospect they'll face is deportation, it's hard to see how that will reflect well on our city or make life here any better. Racial profiling would likely affect citizens too, bringing added fear and paranoia to a city known for its wide mix of residents from around the globe.

A less diverse or inclusive Houston is not a better Houston.

1. Families And Communities Would be Broken Up.

Houston has a huge population of children and teens who were born here and are American citizens, though their parents are not. Some people refer to them derisively as "anchor babies", which is an ugly term to use for describing other Americans. What happens to them if Trump makes good on his promise to deport undocumented people? Are we really prepared to stand by while kids see their parents taken away and shipped out of the country? If allowing American citizens especially children, to be separated from their families is seen as some sort of "Justice" for the "crime" of their parents coming here illegally, then I can't think of a better reason for us to try to fix our immigration system - because that outcome isn't anything that screams "American values" to me. Families with undocumented members in them are still families, deserving to be protected, not destroyed. Houston is better than that.

It remains to be seen how many of Trump's campaign promises will come to pass, since cracks are already appearing in his "Great Wall" plan, but if he ushers in a new era of increased deportations (President Obama already had a rotten track record with that issue)and watch lists,  it's hard to imagine how Houston wouldn't be negatively affected. It's true that the country can't continue to allow non-stop illegal immigration, but we need to look at humane solutions that consider the human rights of people who've made lives here, and contributed to society. Perhaps it's time more people look towards the ultra rich who really do affect our economy, instead of blaming poor immigrants for their problems.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Lane is a contributing writer who enjoys covering art, music, pop culture, and social issues.