Ramiro Cavazos is a seventh-generation Texan, born to a family that originally moved to America from Spain in the late 1600s and settled in the Rio Grande Valley as ranchers and farmers. Cavezos takes great pride in his family’s heritage and their many contributions to Texas. But as the CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, his thoughts on immigration reform are largely practical. “We don’t see immigration reform as an emotional issue, but an economic imperative,” he says. “Immigration is a necessity to keep America growing.”
Cavazos first worked for the Chamber beginning in 1987 when he was 25 years old. He left nearly four years later to pursue a career in the private sector, but returned to the Chamber 18 years later as its president and CEO. “I still feel like I did some 20 years ago,” he says. “We have a bigger team with 16 people and a bigger budget of $2.1 million, but the issues are just as important. We still need immigration reform, and we still need to increase prosperity in the Latino community.”
In his 8-year tenure as head of the Chamber, Cavazos has worked not only to help minority- and women-owned businesses thrive in San Antonio but has educated the community about the value of immigrant workers. “Forty percent of today’s Fortune 500 companies were started by an immigrant or a child of an immigrant,” he says. “This is a country built by immigrants, and we feel that we need to develop a pathway to citizenship and create reform that does not demonize undocumented workers.”
It’s unfortunate that a person studying here from China or India or anywhere can be forced to return back to their country after they earn their PhD in physics or information technology.
In addition to providing a road to citizenship for those already working in the United States (as well as the undocumented parents of American children), Cavazos would like to see more visas for high-skilled workers. “There’s currently a limit on [these] visas, but that’s where a lot of our investment and entrepreneurship is coming from,” he says. “It’s unfortunate that a person studying here from China or India or anywhere can be forced to return back to their country after they earn their PhD in physics or information technology. We end up competing with our own university graduates.”
And while he knows many labor unions would oppose a guest worker program, he thinks it’s necessary to maintain struggling industries. “We’ve shuttered a lot of meatpacking factories in the Midwest because we don’t have the workforce,” he says. “Just because a Mexican comes here to work doesn’t mean he wants to live here.” Cavezos adds that as the fertility rate in the United States continues to decline—it is currently at just 1.9 percent—the country simply cannot support its own business growth. “We can’t keep up with our country’s economic growth with the level of fertility the country has itself,” he says. “We need the workers of the future to come from someplace other than our own country.”