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Houston Becomes An Official ‘Welcoming City’

Civic leaders are working to address immigration reform.


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Houston City Hall
Houston City Hall

Neighborhood Centers, in partnership with the City of Houston, and the Immigration Legal Services Collaborative announced an initiative on Wednesday that will make Houston an official “Welcoming City.”

The program is called the “New American Economy.” Through the initiative, some civic leaders are hoping to create a way to welcome undocumented workers into the workforce.

Jose Sic is an undocumented small business owner from Guatemala.

"Every 15 days they would pay me $375 and when I asked for a raise, they let me go," he said.

Ultimately leaders from the business, non-profit, and other communities are hoping to develop a game plan that will improve opportunities and integration for foreign-born residents like Sic.

State Rep. Gene Wu, from District 137, says reform is needed.

"Business community overwhelmingly demands immigration reform and demands that we have more people come to this country. If you talk to anyone who knows anything about the economy, a shrinking workforce is never a good thing," he said.

According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, foreign-born residents contributed over $116 billion into the local economy in 2014. Wu says the Energy Corridor is the perfect example of immigration working in Houston.

Angela Blanchard, President & CEO of Neighborhood Centers
Angela Blanchard, President & CEO of Neighborhood Centers

"Think about all the engineers, all the scientists, and all the people who came from other countries, studied in the U.S. and helped build those industries," Wu said.

According to data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, foreign-born workers make up 32 percent of the labor force in Houston.

With the city’s immigrant population growing at twice the national average, business leaders like Stan Marek, President and CEO of Marek Companies, say the time for immigration reform is now.

"Give these workers legal status to where they have rights, so if they get taken advantage of like this young man did, they can go to the police, they can go to wage and hour, they can go to somebody." he says.

With reform Marek says, due respect and a level playing field can be provided for all workers. According to Alexander Triantaphyllis, Director of Immigration and Economic Opportunity at Neighborhood Centers, without reform people like Sic have little hope.

“There are many, many people in Houston, we’re talking about – at this moment – at least more than 200,000 individuals, possibly upwards of 400,000, if not more, who are undocumented and many, if not most, of whom have no form of relief at the moment,” Triantaphyllis said.