In five cities across the state Tuesday, business leaders gathered to worry over the question, “What will happen in Texas when 10% of the immigrant population is driven away from the state?”

Adriana Cadena, state coordinator for Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance (RITA) posed that question while speaking at the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She predicted an exodus from the state if Senate Bill 4 goes into effect as scheduled on Sept. 1.

SB 4 would allow local law enforcement officials to question the immigration status of anyone they detain or arrest. It would also threaten police chiefs, sheriffs, and other officials with fines up to $25,000 and even removal from office for failing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The law’s constitutionality is being challenged in two federal court cases.

Cadena was joined by Hispanic Chamber President and CEO Ramiro Cavazos in warning of the dire economic impact of SB 4 and immigrants fleeing the state out of fear of being stopped and deported.

In Texas, 1.1 million unauthorized immigrant workers make up 8.5% of the state’s total labor force, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. Jobs are concentrated in industries like agriculture, hospitality, and especially construction, where an estimated 25% of workers are undocumented.

But that number could be higher. Researchers at the Workers Defense Project, an advocate group for low-wage workers, and the University of Texas at Austin found that half of surveyed construction workers in Texas said they were undocumented.

Citing a study by the grassroots organization Texas Works Together, Cadena said SB 4 will cost between 165,000 to 248,000 jobs in Texas. Texas Works Together is an initiative of Texas Together and RITA intended to combining the economic and political power of businesses and communities to win repeal of SB 4.

The Texas Works together report released Tuesday showed that SB 4 could shrink the state’s economy – considered one of the largest in the world – by as much as $13.8 billion and cut state and local tax revenues by $220 million to $335 million a year.

“We all have something to lose when we see this impact,” Cadena said. “So today we are sharing this information, but at the same time we are calling upon our allies in the business community to stand with us … by pledging against SB 4 as well as supporting the efforts to really educate policy makers on the economic impact this law would have if it gets enacted.”

Adriana Cadena with Texas Together.
Adriana Cadena, state coordinator for Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Max Navarro, chairman of San Antonio-based Operational Technologies, said he came to speak his mind about the issue.

“I know how important it is to have a global view,” said Navarro, who has a long history of starting and managing businesses on both sides of the border. “Any time you set up hurdles, you create problems. … We are brown, but we are still Americans.”

Frank Herrera, a San Antonio attorney and supplier to Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, strongly agreed.

“As business people, we must put a stop to this,” he said. “It’s harmful, detrimental, and evil. And if we continue with this law, it will revert this country back to 60 years ago.”

Siew Pang immigrated to the U.S. from Indonesia at age 18. She’s now owner of medical uniform supplies Sunshine Distributors.

“If we pass the SB 4 bill, the pool of my labor will get smaller because I’m not a big business, and my costs will increase,” Pang said.

“[Small business] are the ones who drive the economy, so pay attention to us. Let’s make Texas a welcoming state. As a business owner, I don’t want to worry about my staff and what happened to them if they don’t show up because of this bill. [If] there’s no labor, there’s no business.”

Fighting against discriminatory legislation is nothing new to San Antonio LGBT Chamber of Commerce President David Solis, who also spoke at the conference.

“We are an inclusive state and we’re diverse, and that has been the formula for our success,” he said. “This dream should continue.”

Cavazos acknowledged the potential social cost of SB 4, noting Catholic Charities representatives at the press conference.

“And the burden falls on our local nonprofits to help with immigration legal rights and food pantries and help with homelessness and health care concerns and child care,” Cavazos said. “This unfortunate ‘race to the bottom’ by our governor and lieutenant governor needs to stop … The stakes are high. Our backs are straight and strong and we’re going to work together to succeed.”

But Navarro pointed to need for more business leaders to voice their opinions on SB 4.

“We’re missing people who ought to be here – USAA, Valero, H-E-B – these corporations that make a significant economic impact in the community, they need to step up and say we also feel the same way, for they are going to be impacted as much as anybody else,” he said.

Cadena said potential losses to the state will keep mounting if SB 4 passes – in jobs, wages, tax revenues, new business, and talent.

“When we look at the numbers and statistics, we see that the impact in Texas would be tremendous,” she said. “Of course, as an organization that works with immigrant workers and communities, we see that the impact transcends that. It transcends into our communities of color in being identified as ‘undocumented,’ as well as it transcends into the economic loss of our state.

“We all have something to lose.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.