HARLINGEN, RGV – Celebrated Texas economist Ray Perryman says it would have been easy for him to have said “no” to an invitation to come to the Rio Grande Valley and speak at a conference hosted by the RGV Equal Voice Network.

“I almost didn’t say yes. I was in Chicago yesterday. I am on the road all next week. I took a couple of days before I gave Amber an answer. But, I thought, I have to come, this is too important,” Perryman said at the start of his presentation at the Harlingen Public Library.

Amber is Amber Arriaga-Salinas, coordinator of the conference. She works for Proyecto Azteca, a member of the Equal Voice network. The conference’s title was The Cost of Militarizing a Border.

In his speech, Perryman pointed out that he has studied the economic impact of immigration and undocumented workers for many years. He said that while he has his own personal opinions on the big issues, when he gives a public opinion he is looking through the lens of an economist. He said the Waco-based Perryman Group, an economic and financial analysis firm of which he is founder and president, does quantitative economic modeling and that five or six years ago the group did a 50-state study, looking at the economic impact of undocumented workers. “It is huge. It is enormous and if you took them away it would be a very weak economy,” Perryman said.

Panelists at the RGV Equal Voice Network conference on border militarization included Jessica Lavariga-Monforti, Scott Nicol, Ray Perryman, Maria Cordero, and Astrid Dominguez.
Panelists at the RGV Equal Voice Network conference on border militarization included Jessica Lavariga-Monforti, Scott Nicol, Ray Perryman, Maria Cordero, and Astrid Dominguez.

Perryman said he was going to do some “very simple math right now about Texas just to give you an example of how silly it is that we don’t have comprehensive, reasonable immigration reform.” He pointed out that there are roughly 12 million people working in Texas right now and that the unemployment rate is about five percent. That means there about 600,000 unemployed people in Texas.

“Best we can tell,” Perryman said, “there are about 1.1 million undocumented immigrants working in Texas today.” He said best we can tell because it is hard to document the undocumented. He said the Pew Research Center does an excellent job of tracking them.

The argument goes, Perryman said, that undocumented workers are taking American jobs. “Well, we have 600,000 people not working in Texas. We have 1.1 million undocumented people working in Texas. So, obviously, if each one of those unemployed people could do one of those jobs… it would not work.”

The fact is, however, that those 600,000 unemployed Texans could not do the work of undocumented immigrants, Perryman noted. Many would not have the physical stamina to pick crops and others would not have the trade skills to construct houses. Others, still, live in regions of the state where such work is not needed.

“For a lot of reasons it would not work,” Perryman said. “But, let’s pretend for a minute it would work. We take those 600,000 people and we give them jobs. We still need half a million of those undocumented workers. It is just math. It should not be politics. Unfortunately, has become way too political. It’s just math.”

Perryman praised the members of Equal Voice. “You have to live it every day. You are the boots on the ground. You are the ones who try to generate the grassroots effort to get some meaningful solutions here.” He was referring to comprehensive immigration reform.

Perryman added that the economics of the issue show that it is “common sense” to pass comprehensive immigration reform. He said he gets “really get upset” when the issue gets politicized.

Perryman concluded his remarks about the state and national picture thus: “We talk all the time about the Texas miracle and all the growth we have had. I have been privileged to be part of some of the legislation that has made that happen and been a part of a lot of the projects that made that happen and I am very pleased about that. But, let’s take a look at the Texas economy without those undocumented workers. Our agricultural sector would collapse. Our construction sector would collapse. Our hospitality sector would collapse. So, we would have an economy where you couldn’t grow anything, go anywhere or build anything. That would not be much of an economy.”

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series on Dr. Ray Perryman’s speech at the RGV Equal Voice Network conference on border militarization.