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IN-DEPTH: Impacts of immigration in Texas

Posted at 6:28 PM, Sep 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-03 06:58:31-04

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — If you think immigrants have vastly different values than most Americans, you'd be wrong, according to Socorro Hernandez.

One possible exception, her desire to become an American.

"For me to become a citizen of this great country and you know, go and do more. Not just for me, but then, future generations and for my children," she explained.

Hernandez, originally from Mexico, emigrated to the U.S. and calls the Brazos Valley home.

Doing more may sound a little foreign to those of us born here, but many of the immigrants who've settled in Texas say they want to give back to the country that helped them succeed.

Despite reports migrant numbers reached a 20-year high recently, immigration to America from Mexico has steadily declined for years.

What corner of the world holds the top spot for immigration in this country?

The latest figures from the bipartisan policy center say Asia now leads with China being the top country of origin for new immigration in 2018, followed by India.

Likely one of the reasons Gov. Abbott issued a proclamation honoring India's independence from British Colonial Rule.

Many Chinese immigrants will invest their life savings in a U.S. business to skip the immigration line and to earn a E-2 Visa which is granted to those who invest about half a million or more.

A 2013 investigation into Mississippi's now-bankrupt Greentech automotive showed how anxious Chinese immigrants were to get out from under Communist rule.

Greentech asked the then-Mayor of Horn Lake Mississippi, Nat Baker, to help sell the company on a trip to China.

Baker said the group would sell Greentech to rooms full of potential investors, but with a heavy emphasis on the E-2 visas.

Investigations by the media and the government turned up information that suggested Greentech, run at the time by former Democratic Party operative Terry McCauliffe with the help of Tony Rodham, the former first lady's brother, spent as much or more time marketing special visas to Chinese nationals, whom invested in Greentech, than they ever did on making carbon-neutral cars.

Many doubt the fairly recent rush of South and Central Americans trying to enter this county has caught up to the huge numbers coming in from Asia.

Jaimi Washburn, who heads up the Brazos Interfaith Immigration Network, describes Hernandez's story as a typical one for migrants.

"They usually come from places that are extremely dangerous," Washburn said. "For example, in Central America, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Where there's lots of gangs, there's lots of poverty they literally have no work. And they just want to put food on the table just like every other parent in the world."

And the pay they often get in this country frequently equals what they earned in their home country times as many as ten or more, she said.

Some migrants say they can make more in a single hour here than what they could make back home in a week, according to Washburn.

She said that although they can sometimes end up supporting an entire extended family in their hometown, those close to them say almost everyone has the intention of going back.

"Their only option is to get to a place that they can get a job," Washburn said. "They know that America is the place to go for job opportunities and always want to go home, they always come here with the intention of going home, because you know they want to be close to the family because having to leave being family is the most important thing in their culture right and so having to leave the family is really really difficult and so, their goal is to always get home."

Those that can get home, do.

But undocumented workers fear getting caught crossing the border and getting trapped here.

Another fear: Employers taking advantage of them.

Washburn said sometimes circumstances keep some here longer than planned since they provide vital support to their family back home.

In the meantime, Hernandez said she's ready to take the plunge and to put down roots and become an American for the future of her family.

"For my children, I have one kid but for him to be anything that he can be and take any opportunity that comes his way to do any good," she said.

Because through it all, Hernandez said it's all she's ever wanted in the first place.

One man who's trying to help immigrants and change the national narrative about them said what you think about immigration these days may have more to do with the news you follow, and its political spin.

25 News found there's more at stake here besides immigration.

"I've lived in College Station since I was five years old," said Carlos Espina. "I was born in New York, we moved there when I was little. I went to elementary, middle school and high school in college station. Then in 2017, I went to Vassar College and I graduated in 2020. I'm starting law school at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, I want to study immigration law."

Born in Uraguay, Espina came to this country as a young child and took an interest in immigration. He went on to form a support group called Amigos Del Valle De Brazos.

Espina said he traveled to Texas to study the issue and said people don't always get the whole picture.

For instance, he said both liberals and conservatives hype the narratives around immigration.

"You know we're headed well over a million people coming across the border illegally and 180,000 confrontations just in May," said Williams in an interview with 25 News anchor Leigha McNeil recently.

Espina points out while the numbers have increased, their experience remains remarkably the same.

"And what's lost in all that is what's really happening and I think what's happening at the border," Espina said. "Because I've been a lot of times, is nothing drastically different than what's been happening for a lot of years now. I think it's just how the narrative around it is changed and how the media frames it in certain ways."

And groups who help immigrants back that up.

Immigrants make a convenient political football because they usually stay busy building their lives and raising their family and have little time to join the national conversation on immigration, according to Washburn.

"All they want is to do good for the family," Washburn said about the majority of migrants coming to the U.S. "And I feel like there's a lot of rhetoric about they're dangerous and they're gangsters. Well, there's gangsters everywhere that are dangerous and those are not the people that are coming here. They're not trying to get here to bring violence, they're trying to get here just to put food on the table for the family."

Washburn's center has started helping immigrants find their voice through videos with those who, to many in Central Texas and the Brazos Valley, sound more like their neighbors than foreigners.

Washburn and Espina both favor more U.S. involvement in so-called nation-building in Latin America as a way to slow the stream of people coming here.

"They feel like historically what the U.S. has done is kind of just exploit those countries, and they wish there was some sort of plan to make those countries better because, I mean, no one likes the idea of like what's the long term solution just everyone comes over and then like Honduras and Guatemala just become like isolated countries where no one wants to live, you know," he said.

He adds many may be surprised to know America already has vital interests in Latin America.

"You just go to H-E-B for example, and you see like all the fruits, where are they coming from they're coming from all Central American countries." Espina said. "And most of those, the land that is being produced on our American companies, realistically, who has power in those islands is those who invest in them. So it's a lot of almost self-interest. So I'm saying, companies like that have an outsized influence, yes."

About 20 years ago, a handful of U.S. companies got implicated in a scandal by overpaying so-called protection money to Colombian paramilitary groups.

Chiquita Brands settled with the U.S. State Department and paid a $25 Million fine.

Espina said that should strengthen his argument that the American government might want to invest some of its border wall money on mending fences with Latin American countries.

"I like to be optimistic and think that there is a better way forward and more humane way forward because it's really sad to see what is going on right now," said Espina.

He and many others want to see more attention from the U.S. government toward Latin America to foster positive change — something that's proved difficult to achieve.

"Where there's a will, there's a way," Espina said.