Sergio Ramos was born in Texas and has lived in southeast Texas for more than 60 years. The only sign he is an immigrant is his lingering Spanish accent. As soon as he started studying English in the border town of Harlingen at age 13 — his father went back and forth across the border for his pineapple export business — Ramos figured out how to integrate into American society.
After earning his master’s degree in languages at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, he accepted a job teaching high school Spanish in the tiny town of Woodville, in the heart of the Texas Big Thicket. During a 50-year career, Ramos taught generations of students whose parents provided vital labor to the economies of Texas and Florida: Planting pine trees, working on cattle ranches, and picking oranges and grapefruit. He became a U.S. citizen, started a family, worked as the music director at several local Baptist churches, and served as the president of his local Lions Club.
Ramos is a model citizen who took great care to obtain his citizenship legally. But he understands that this isn’t always as easy for newer generations. He is especially concerned about the Dreamers, the nearly 790,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States when they were children and who, thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA), can now legally work, apply for driver’s licenses, and enroll in college. The 2012 policy temporarily waives deportation for qualifying young people for renewable two-year periods.
Between August 2012 and March 31, 2017, Texas had 121,000 DACA approvals, second only to California. In 2015, 91.2 percent of Texas’ DACA-eligible population was employed. But the future is uncertain for Dreamers, after announcements that the program will soon end. Also uncertain is how states like Texas will make up the loss in tax revenue if they are not allowed to stay. A 2016 report from the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimated that Texas’ undocumented immigrants pay close to $1.6 billion a year in state and local taxes. Nationally, the DACA-eligible population earns almost $19.9 billion in total income annually. They pay more than $1.4 billion in federal taxes and more than $1.6 billion in state and local taxes in the United States. They also hold significant economic clout after taxes, with almost $16.8 billion in spending power.
They’re hard workers and good people trying to survive.
Ramos’ son studied industrial technology at Sam Houston State University and owns a construction company in Houston. His daughter is the principal of nearby Spurger’s junior and senior high school. Ramos, as head coach of the high school tennis team, led the school to 39 district wins and 11 state finals — an achievement that earned him a place in the Texas Tennis Coaches Association Hall of Fame. “I am so fortunate that I’ve never been discriminated against and was immediately accepted into the community,” says Ramos, now 74. “I’ve always focused on making Woodville a better place.”
There is no reason that recipients of DACA shouldn’t achieve the same kind of success, he says. More than 80 percent graduated from high school and 90 percent are employed and paying taxes. The only difference between DACA recipients and his own kids, Ramos says, is where they were born. “These children should have the access to education as anyone else. They are here illegally through no fault of their own,” he says.
DACA recipients are also, overwhelmingly, fluent in English. “If you want to advance here, you have to learn the language,” says Ramos. In Texas, DACA recipients are vital contributors to the economy, earning $3 billion in small-business income and paying $1.1 billion in state and local taxes.
Ramos would like to se immigration reform that creates a path to residency for undocumented immigrants, many of whom have been working in the country for years but have no way to achieve documented status without leaving. If the provided the ability to work legal, analysts say undocumented immigrants would achieve greater incomes, pay more in taxes, and stimulate the national gross domestic product by an estimated $1.4 trillion.
“I wish I could change the hearts and minds of those who look down on immigrants, and make people realize they’re someone’s babies,” Ramos says. “A lot of people came here because they want a better life. They’re hard workers and good people trying to survive.”