Mauricio Roca, is an U.S. citizen. His wife is American, and they have two American children. However, with so much negative rhetoric around immigrants these days, the Mexican-born Roca feels nervous whenever he sees a police officer. “Most Hispanics I know who are living in the United States right now are terrified of getting in trouble,” he says. “Even I worry.” It is a frustrating situation for someone who has spent nearly two decades building a life here in America.
This journey to build a life in America took Roca first to California, where he spent many years working in finance and manufacturing. Then, in 2011, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, Roca moved to Shreveport, LA, when a headhunter contacted him about a manufacturing job. With so many people finding themselves out of work, Roca jumped at the opportunity, even though it was across the country in a place very different from his home at the time. Roca’s journey is not unique, however. It is the kind of personal and professional risk that immigrants to the United States are more willing to take. Research shows that immigrant workers are nearly 14 percent more likely to move for a job than their American-born counterparts, which means they are better able to fill important gaps in the labor market.
As a bilingual professional, Roca’s move to Louisiana even more important since the demand for bilingual workers has more than doubled in the last five years. In 2013, he capitalized on that by making a career switch to sell commercial insurance after identifying opportunities in the Spanish-speaking market. “I don’t know of another agent in Louisiana who is fully bilingual and doing commercial insurance for mid-to-large size businesses,” he says. “I started at zero. Now I have hundreds of clients who’ve purchased millions of dollars in premiums.”
They really just want what is best for the country and the communities where they live.
Roca works with plenty of native English speakers as well. “It doesn’t matter what language you speak,” he says. “What matters is your ability to prove yourself. I make sure they know I have their best interests in mind and that I will go the extra 10 miles for them.”
This work ethic is shared by many of his fellow immigrants. “What I see from the Hispanics living in this country is that they work hard and do whatever it takes to get the job done,” says Roca. Those efforts are certainly on display in Louisiana’s Fourth Congressional District, where Roca lives. Immigrants there play crucial roles in the local construction, accommodation, food services, and manufacturing industries, among several others. And despite accounting for less than 2.5 percent of the overall population, immigrant households hold nearly $324 million in spending power and pay nearly $104 million in state and federal taxes according to data analyzed by NAE from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“I’ve witnessed success stories all over,” says Roca. “They own restaurants, they create jobs, they volunteer and donate money or offer discounts to policemen, firemen, seniors. They have served in the military and fought for this country. They really just want what is best for the country and the communities where they live.”
Which is why Roca finds the current anti-immigration climate so distressing—and why he wants reform that will protect immigrant workers and their families. “Sure, if someone has committed a crime, they should go. But these people who are contributing and have families here should have some sort of protection. We know the United States cares about human rights. But you can’t be the most humanitarian country of the world and also be separating families. It doesn’t work both ways.”
Perhaps equally important, Roca adds, is that immigration reform is important for the economy. “As a marketing and finance guy, I’m a believer in an open market,” he says. “And I believe that if you want to be the best in something, you need to compete against everyone, everywhere. When you start controlling trade by taxing certain kinds of products to keep jobs here in the United States, or when you start disallowing certain people to come into the country because you’re afraid they’re taking jobs, what you’re really doing is encouraging the status quo and hindering innovation.”