Shaping Texas: The Effects of Immigration, 1970-2020

By Leon F. Bouvier and John L. Martin on April 1, 1995


Texas overtook New York in 1994 as the nation's second most populous state, according to the Census Bureau. This may be due to Texans, noted hospitality. But could that population growth be too much of a good thing? This paper addresses that question, and it calls on Texans to consider where the state is headed.


Table: US and TX Population and Immigration


Within the lifetime of a few Texan old timers the state has surged from about three million inhabitants (1900) to well over 18 million and it is still growing rapidly. Texans are rightfully proud that the state is attractive to newcomers, but as conditions in the state change, so too do the benefits and costs of continued rapid growth.

The components of population growth are fertility, mortality and immigration. This study is not about mortality or fertility, although it notes that a decrease in immigration from abroad would not, by itself, be sufficient to stabilize population size. Rather the focus is on immigration and how it has contributed to change in Texas' population and what the prospects are for the future, if current trends continue.

Population numbers are not easy to comprehend, especially when the U.S. population now exceeds a quarter of a billion people. The population concentration varies greatly among different regions. States like Nevada support slightly over ten persons per square mile. There are 66 persons per square mile in Texas. New Jersey has over 1,000 per square mile. The greatest population increase is occurring in the West and the South, with immigration playing a major role. The Census Bureau now projects a U.S. population, based on current trends, of about 400 million by the middle of the next century, more than 50 percent larger than today. Whether this projection becomes reality will depend on actions we take today to shape our future.

This study looks first at national trends and then at those in Texas. The discussion is divided into past and present conditions and future trends, and is intended to be indicative, not exhaustive, of relevant issues. For example, discussion of population changes in Houston could just as well focus on Austin or San Antonio, and could focus on metropolitan areas or on counties rather than a city. We hope others will accept an invitation to provide similar analysis for other jurisdictions. A concluding section outlines some of the options available to Texans for reshaping the future they leave for their posterity.

National Population Change and Immigration

Immigration is widely recognized as a major factor in the population growth of California, Texas and New York, and it also plays an important role in the growth of many other states. Yet, since immigration is a federal responsibility, states are limited in their options and must look primarily to the federal government to act when their interests are at stake. For this reason, before we explore the role of immigration in Texas, we begin by looking at the present national context, at what it was 25 years ago, and then we speculate on the next 25 years.

The Present: At mid-decade, the nation's population has reached about 263 million. Since 1990, we have increased by 14 million people. For the five-year period beginning July 1990 and ending June 1995, about 9 million people have been added through natural increase (births minus deaths), and 5 million more through net international migration (immigrants minus emigrants). No records are kept on how many leave the country permanently, nor how many enter illegally. It is generally agreed, however, that between 160,000 and 250,000 leave every year, and more than 300,000 per year enter the country clandestinely or stay in violation of their legal, non-immigrant status. Thus, net immigration, legal and illegal, accounts for at least one-third of recent population growth.

The Recent Past (1970-1995): Over the past quarter of a century the American population has multiplied at a rate higher than that of any other industrialized nation. At the 1970 census, 203 million people were enumerated. That number had passed 249 million by 1990; by 1995, 60 million people had been added to the nation's population in just 25 years.

According to a recent study prepared by the Urban Institute, if immigration had come to an end in 1970, the 1990 population of the United States would have been 229 million, rather than 249 million. Thus, immigration, directly and indirectly, accounted for 44 percent of all growth over those two decades.

During the 1970s, total legal immigration amounted to 4.5 million, and it rose to 7.3 million during the 1980s. The changing pattern of immigration can be seen when examining the numbers and regional origin of immigrants arriving over the past four decades (see Figure 1). Because of this escalating immigration, we estimate the number of foreign born in 1995 has reached 24 million (9.1% of the population).

Largely as a result of both the substantial increase in immigration and the changing sources of that influx, the ethnic composition of the United States has changed dramatically since 1970. Then, Non-Hispanic Whites (hereinafter simply Whites) comprised 85 percent of the nation's population. Now that share is down to less than 75 percent. The African-American proportion has remained more stable, increasing from 10 to 12 percent. In contrast, the Hispanic share has doubled from five to 10 percent, and Asians (together with American Indians and Pacific Islanders) have seen their share grow from less than one percent in 1970 to close to four percent today.

Graph: Shifting Immigrant Shares/Legal Immigration by Decade, 1951-1990

The Near-Term Future (1995-2020): According to the Census Bureau's current medium projection, the population will reach 275 million in 2000, 298 million in 2010, and 323 million in 2020. If both fertility and immigration remain at current levels, some 70 percent of the growth between 1995 and 2020 will be attributable to immigration, whether directly by the newcomers or indirectly by their U.S.-born children. Thus, immigration clearly is the prime factor that will shape future population growth in the United States.

Current immigration levels will produce further rapid change in the nation's ethnic composition. The Census Bureau projects that, at the turn of the century, the proportion of Whites will have continued to shrink (to 71.5%); Blacks will have held their share (12.3%); and Hispanics and Asians will have grown (to 11.1% and 5.1 %, respectively). This trend will continue indefinitely. By 2020, the projected shares will be: Whites 63.9; Blacks 13.3; Hispanics 15.2; and Asians 7.6 (see Figure 2). The nation will be unalterably on its way to being a "non-majority" society; i.e., where no single group is in the majority. Current trends in fertility and immigration will produce that result shortly after 2050.

Graph: US Population by Ethnic Shares

Such rapid growth and change in the ethnic composition of the population pose an enormous challenge for the society. Over the past 25 years, the nation has added 60 million people; can it realistically accommodate another 60 million people over the next 25 years and another 75 million in the following 30 years? Indeed, it is argued by a growing number of scientists that we are already over-taxing our natural resources.

Although the momentum built into the population precludes any near-term end to this expansion, this does not mean that the issue should be ignored. The conditions that will confront future generations will be shaped by decisions taken today. Fertility might realistically decline from its present average rate of 2.0 births per woman to 1.7 by 2000 and then gradually to 1.6 by 2020, but this by itself would not stop the population surge. That change plus lower immigration — to about 200-250,000 newcomers annually — would still result in a population of almost 300 million people by 2020. This would be a large increase to accommodate, but some 25 million fewer than if nothing changed. Beyond that date, however, a leveling off would begin to take hold.

These are issues that will affect every American and immigrant to our shores. Depending on where they live in the United States, many are already feeling the pinch, while it will creep up more gradually on others. And in the states most affected by immigration there are already efforts underway to attempt to influence the future course of events without waiting for Washington to act.

Texas's Immigration-Fueled Population Boom

The population changes in Texas in the recent past and projected for the near future tend to mirror those in the United States in general. In this study we focus on a half decade of demographic change, which we describe in three segments: the current picture (i.e. 1990-1995); back 25 years to 1970; and then, forward to the next 25 years. Our purpose is to look at social and economic variables that are especially susceptible to changes in immigration and the number of foreign born in the population. What is the contribution of immigration to population growth, and what does this mean for the state?

Current Conditions

At mid-decade, the population of Texas is about 18.5 million. The 1990 census counted 16,986,510 Texans. Texas overtook New York in 1994 as the second largest state according to a recent Census Bureau report.

Between 1990 and 1994, over 300,000 legal immigrants settled in Texas. In addition, we estimate that during that same period Texas received a net annual increase from illegal immigration of at least 30-50,000. Thus, immigration accounted directly for perhaps 35 percent of all the growth in that five-year period. When the U.S. citizen children born to immigrants are considered, immigration accounted for at least 40 percent of that growth. The balance comes from natural increase (i.e., births less deaths among the native born) and domestic migration, which currently is positive, in contrast to the late 1980s, when more left than entered Texas.

The 1990 census data reveal trends in the Texas population that reflect the impact of immigration and the resultant changing ethnic composition. It shows that 60.6 percent of the Texas population was White (non-Hispanic), 25.7 percent was Hispanic; 11.6 percent Black, and 2.1 percent Asian (including American Indians and Pacific Islanders). Immigrants have continued to come primarily from Mexico, and Central American and Asian countries, especially India and Vietnam. By mid-1995, the share of Whites and Blacks has fallen slightly, as the share of Hispanics and Asians continues to grow.

The census found that about 1.5 million foreign born lived in Texas in 1990. It should be noted, however, that the census contains an undercount error that proportionately understates the population in high illegal immigrant settlement states like Texas. The foreign born now number at least 1.8 million. Over half of these foreign-born Texas residents arrived since 1980.

Of the 1.5 million immigrants residing in Texas in 1990, Mexico was the leading country of birth, representing nearly 60 percent of the total (see Table 2). When the foreign born from other countries of this hemisphere are included, the share reaches nearly 71 percent. The second major source of immigrants to Texas is Asia, representing 16 percent. Europe and Africa have contributed much smaller numbers. Among Texas, illegal alien population, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) estimates that the major countries of nationality are Mexico (64%), El Salvador (16%) and Honduras (3%).

Table: Texas' 1990 Foreign born Population

A minority of Texas' foreign-born population has become U.S. citizens. Only 17 percent of those entering between 1980 and 1990 did so. In part this is low because of the five-year residence requirement for naturalization. However, even among those entering the country between 1965 and 1979, fewer than half (41%) has naturalized. This reflects the fact that most of Texas' foreign born come from Mexico and Central America. Nationally, newcomers from these countries have been less likely to become U.S. citizens (22.6% for Mexicans and 20.7% for Central Americans).

Given the large and growing foreign-born population in Texas, it is not surprising that over one-quarter of all residents age 5 or over speak a language other than English — most often Spanish — at home (exclusively or besides English). Over 820,000 residents admit that they either speak no English whatsoever or speak it "not very well." This is particularly true of persons coming from Latin America. These numbers have undoubtedly increased since 1990.

The 1990 census identified 4,384,921 Texas families — 80 percent were traditional husband-wife (with or without children) units. The proportion of families is greater among Whites (85.8% ) and Asians (84.1 %)than among Blacks (54%) and Hispanics (75.3%). Family size averaged 3.3 persons, and was higher among Asians (3.7), Blacks (3.4) and Hispanics ( 4).

Median family income was $31,553. Just over 14 percent had incomes below the poverty level. Variations by ethnicity were substantial. Whites, Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics had median family incomes of$38,051, $35,992, $20,630, and $20,121, respectively. While only 3.9 percent of White families had incomes under the poverty level, the share was higher for Blacks (16.6%), Hispanics (12.7%) and Asians (6.2%). For immigrants, the household poverty rate in 1989 was 31.6 percent, and about ten percent of the households were receiving public assistance. The difference between these two figures is due in part to the fact that illegal immigrants are ineligible for most public assistance programs.

Texas stands at about the national average in terms of the health of its people. The state's infant mortality rate is 7.2 per 1,000 births for Whites and 15.4 for Blacks. This is better than the corresponding national averages of 7.6 for Whites and 18 for Blacks.

Much more could be written about the demographics of Texas today, but the preceding discussion furnishes the context for looking at past and future trends related to the issue of how immigration shapes the population dynamics of the state.

The Recent Past (1970-1990)

During the 1980s, the population of Texas grew by just under 20 percent — from 14.2 to 16.9 million. This high rate of growth was, nevertheless, lower than in the previous decade. In the 1970s, the state increased by 27.1 percent above the 11.2 million Texans in 1970. In 25 years, the population grew by 6.3 million — that is over 56 percent.

Immigration was an important contributor to that growth. Between 1970 and 1990, about one million people immigrated to Texas. Illegal immigration is difficult to measure. However, based on the number of INS apprehensions of illegal aliens and data from the 1986 amnesty, which legalized some 446,000 aliens in Texas, an estimated 420,000 to 460,000 illegal immigrants were residing in the state in 1994. The settlement of legal immigrants in Texas averaged around 50,000 annually throughout the 1980s. The total foreign-born population of the state increased over four-fold over the past 20 years — from 310,000 in 1970 to 856,000 in 1980 and 1.5 million in 1990. Thus, the growth of the immigrant population alone — not including their U.S.-born children — accounted for nearly 20 percent of the population growth in Texas between 1970-90.

The sources of this foreign migration have also shifted (see Figure 3). In 1970, the Mexican-born population of Texas numbered 209,000. Fewer than 20,000 were foreign-born Asians; 81,000 came from Europe. Leading countries of origin, besides Mexico, included Germany (23,169) and the United Kingdom (13,620).

By 1980, the foreign-born population had mushroomed. Almost 100,000 were from European countries (an increase of about 25%) and almost 118,000 were from Asia (an increase of over 550%). This included 24,793 from Vietnam, 13,905 from India, 11,562 from Korea, and 11,553 from Philippines. Almost 550,000 were from Latin America, with Mexico providing 498,000

The number of European foreign born remained just over 100,000 in 1990. But the Asian-born population had about doubled again, growing to almost a quarter of a million. By 1990, the foreign-born Vietnamese population had risen to 53,628, the Indian to 32,162, the Filipino to 25,620 and the Korean to 23,919 — each of these national groups exceeded the total population of Asian-born immigrants in 1970. Close to 1.1 million residents of Texas had been born in Latin America. The Mexican born totaled over 900,000 (up over 80%), and those from El Salvador numbered almost 50,000 (see Table 3).

Table: Increase in the Foreign born for select countries, 1980-1990


This massive foreign migration, overwhelmingly from Latin America and Asia, has contributed to dramatic shifts in the ethnic composition of Texas. The Hispanic population (whether born here or elsewhere) has more than doubled from 2.1 million to 4.3 million in 1990. The Hispanic share of the population has increased from 18.4 percent in 1970 to 25.5 percent in 1990. It is even higher today. This increase alone is greater than the current total population of 18 states, and the total Hispanic population of Texas is greater than the total population of31 of the 50 states in 1990. The growth in the Hispanic population alone accounted for almost half of the state's net increase in population size since 1980.

From a minor population share of 50,000 in 1970, the Asian immigrant and ancestry population grew to 379,000 in 1990. They comprised 2.3 percent of the state's population in the last census. While Mexicans dominate the Hispanic population of Texas, no single group is predominant in the Asian population. According to the 1990 census (including both the foreign born and those born in the United States who identified a foreign ancestry), there were 69,634 Vietnamese, 63,232 Chinese, 55,795 Indians, and 31,775 Koreans.

Although Blacks have continued to increase their numbers over the years, their share of the population has fallen slightly, from 12.5 percent in 1970 to 11.6 percent in 1990, because of the increase in the number of other minorities.

As a result of this continued high level of immigration, the White non-Hispanic majority share of the state's population has shrunk steadily — from 68. 7 percent in 1970 to 65.7 in 1980 and, as noted above, 60.6 in 1990. It is undoubtedly below 60 percent today.

Regional Impact

Regions of the state are affected differently by immigration. West of the Pecos River, some three-quarters of the population is of Mexican origin, and this has varied little over time. The only large city in this region is El Paso, where the population is about 70 percent Hispanic. But in some other areas of the state, the change in composition has been striking. In the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington Metropolitan statistical Area (MSA) the Hispanic population grew by more than 271,000 between 1980 and 1990 (an increase of 109%), and the share of the Hispanic population increased from 12.7 percent to 20.3 percent. The Houston MSA witnessed an increase of over 305,000 Hispanics (65% increase) over this decade, with the population share increasing from 15.1 percent to 20.8 percent.

The city of Houston has experienced a more striking change than the MSA as a whole. With a 1990 population of slightly more than 1.6 million, it is the nation's fourth-largest city .Its growth was meteoric in the 1970s and has continued since then at a slower rate. In 1970, the population stood at 1.2 million. By 1980, it had reached nearly 1.6 million. The slower growth of the city in the '80s was not matched in the outlying areas — they were still burgeoning (20.7% MSA growth 1980-1990).

Over this 20-year period, during which the city's population grew by about 400,000, the increase in the city's foreign-born population amounted to over 250,000 — 63 percent of the city's growth. Only 37,501 foreign-born residents were enumerated in 1970. That number reached 155,577 in 1980 and 290,374 in 1990. Almost 58 percent of the foreign born in 1990 had arrived since 1980. In other words, more were added during the 1980s than constituted the entire foreign-born population in 1980.

As with the state, the source of immigration to Houston has shifted considerably since 1970. Of the 37,501 foreign born enumerated in that year's census, 14,241 came from Mexico and many of the remaining 23,000 were of European birth (see Figure 4).

By 1980, the pattern was very different. About 16,000 of the foreign born were of European birth while over 32,000 were Asian and over 86,000 were Latin American. Mexican-born numbered 70,997 (nearly a four-fold increase). Other major sources included Vietnam (7,833), India (4,693), China (3,131) and the Philippines (2,409). The 1990 census shows European immigrants still number around 16,000. But Asians almost doubled to 57,359, and Latin Americans more than doubled to over 192,000. The Mexican-born population was still by far the largest, having grown by over 61,000 to 132,596. Other leading source countries were Vietnam (15,568), India (7,044) and China (6,898). Immigrants from Africa began to increase in the 1980s. By 1990, there were 8,437 Africans; including 3,907 from Nigeria.

Graph: Houston's Foreign born Population, 197-1990


This high level of immigration, together with an exodus to the suburbs by native-born Whites, has contributed to major shifts in the ethnic composition of Houston (see Figure 5). In 1970, Whites comprised 61.2 percent of the population, Blacks 25.7 percent, Hispanics 12.1 percent, and Asians one percent.1 Whites still made up a majority of Houston's population in 1980, but barely so — 52.3 percent. The Black share rose slightly to 27.4 percent, that of Hispanics went to 17.6 percent and Asians to 2.7 percent.


Graph: Ethnicity and Immigration in Texas Cities in 1990


Sometime during the early 1980s, Houston became a no-majority city. By 1990, the White share was down to 40.3 percent and the Black share was barely larger than the Hispanic — 27.9 and 27.4 respectively. Asians made up 4.4 percent of the population. By 1995, the White share is probably below 40 percent, and Hispanics have perhaps displaced Blacks as the second largest minority — Whites being the most numerous minority.

The numerical shifts during the 1980s are equally dramatic. The White population fell by 171,419 while that of Blacks increased slightly. On the other hand, the Hispanic population grew by almost 170,000, nearly equaling the decline in the number of Whites. Asians saw their numbers grow by 27,000.

Such rapid changes in the composition of a city associated with immigration pose serious challenges for every aspect of the society. For example, by 1990, fewer than 70 percent of the Houston population age 5 and over spoke English at home. One-quarter spoke Spanish. Over 125,000 Houstonians admitted that they either did not speak English at all or spoke it "not very well." That number had increased considerably over previous decades. The problems this poses for schools are significant. It should be added that similar changes in composition are occurring in other Texas cities such as Dallas and Austin. While some sections of the state may not be noticeably affected by immigration, others are affected very seriously.

The Next 25 Years (1995-2020)

If the current pattern continues unchanged, we project that Texas will surpass the 20-million mark by the end of this decade, and will increase to almost 27 million by 2020, growing by almost 60 percent in just 25 years. Despite fertility declines, especially among minorities, Texas can expect to grow at an annual rate of close to 1.6 percent. This rate is considerably higher than that of any industrial nation (for example, the average annual growth rate for Western Europe is one-tenth of one percent).

Other population projections also show a continuing rapid increase. One study, prepared at Texas A&M University, reflects a medium scenario population of 24.5 million in 2020, and a high scenario estimate of 29 million. The authors also prepared an illustrative projection assuming no migration (international and domestic) whatsoever. This yielded a 2020 population of 21.5 million. Thus, even without any migration in or out of the state, Texas would still grow by about four and a half million over the next 25 years. This hypothetical projection suggests that migration would account for growth of 3 million, a majority of which would be the result of international movements.

The demographic dice may well be already cast. Unless efforts to reduce immigration and fertility begin soon, Texas is destined to continue to grow rapidly for the foreseeable future. The turn of the century will no doubt see over 20 million Texans, based only on current momentum. Twenty years later, between 25 and 30 million is not an unreasonable estimate of how many people will live in Texas, but this is not immutable. Wise decisions today by policymakers can alter this demographic future.

The challenges for Texas policymakers that will result from this growth and shift in the composition of the population will be enormous. They include decisions on how to allocate scarce resources to state programs, such as education, labor force training, or welfare and medical services.

By 2015, as in Houston today, Whites will no longer be the majority ethnic group (see Figure 6). By 2020, their share will have declined further to 47 percent, while that for Hispanics will have grown to 37 percent and that for Asians to 5 percent. The Black share will fall slightly to 11 percent. Thus, by 2020, there will be no ethnic majority in Texas; no single race or ethnic group will comprise over 50 percent of the population.

To put it in numbers, while the White population of Texas will increase from 10.3 million in 1990 to 12.7 million in 2020, the Hispanic population will increase from 4.3 million to over 10 million. While the Black population will grow from just under two million to almost three million, the number of Asians will climb by 363,000 to over 1.2 million.

Graph: Population by Ethnicity in Texas, 1970-2020


Texas will soon become a truly multi-racial society where no single group will predominate numerically. California has already reached that status, and Texas is not far behind.

What do these numbers mean? The growth of Texas' population from 11 million to possibly 27 million within a 50-year period is enormous. Equally important are the challenges posed by such growth, and in particular, by the immigration-driven portion.


School enrollments provide a graphic example of this challenge. Between 1970 and 1990, public school enrollments rose by almost one million students, about 40 percent. In 1970, about two-thirds of all public school students in Texas were White, compared with almost one-quarter who identified themselves as Hispanic. By 1985, the White majority was down to53.3 percent and in 1990, for the first time in Texas history, there was no majority racial or ethnic group. Since 1980, the percentage of Hispanics has risen from 27.5 percent to perhaps 35 percent. The percentage of Blacks has remained quite stable over this time period at about 15 percent of all public school enrollments. Asians more than doubled their share over the decade, from 1.0 to 2.2 percent.

Numerical changes over the 1980s were even more dramatic. While White enrollment increased by a mere 42,000, the number of Hispanic students rose by over 300,000 (from fewer than 800,000 to over 1.1 million). Black enrollment rose by 52,000 (from 435,000 to 487,000) and Asians increased more than two-fold, from 35,000 to 74,000.

Future changes, whether in numbers or in ethnic composition, will continue to be striking. By 2020, almost 5.6 million children will be attending the public elementary and secondary schools of Texas compared to about 3.5 million today. If we assume that schools on the average have about 650 students, Texas will have to build about two schools every week for the next 25 years just to keep up with growing enrollments, according to our projections.

Immigration is playing a key role in this booming school enrollment. Throughout Texas, the impact of massive immigration is being keenly felt on school budgets. Furthermore, in 1982, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v. Doe that Texas schools must educate all children between the ages of 5 and 17 living within a school district, regardless of immigration status. This further exacerbates an already difficult and expensive situation.

A recent story in the San Antonio Express-News notes that thousands of Mexican students illegally attend Texas border schools at a cost of more than $26 million. In Brownsville, up to 5,000 of the 37,000 students are non-resident aliens. We estimate that the cost to educate these Mexican students, based on average Texas Education Agency per-pupil expenditures, includes about $12.6 million in local funds, $10.5 million in state funds and $3.35 million in federal aid.

By 2015, Hispanics will surpass Whites in the classroom and in 2020, they will comprise 45.5 percent of all students compared to 38.3 for Whites. By then, the Black share will have fallen to 11.5 percent, while that for Asians will have risen to 4.7 percent.

For a number of years the Texas Assessment of Basic Skills (TABS) program has measured the level of mathematical and reading skills among students in grades 3, 5 and 9. While there is evidence of some narrowing of differences among ethnic groups, Blacks and Hispanics still score behind Whites. (Asians are not included in the analyses because of their small numbers.) Clearly, considerable work and resources are needed if parity among ethnic groups is to be attained. Unless this occurs, the overall quality of the Texas workforce of the future will decline as the share of its population that is Black or Hispanic grows.

The increasingly multilingual school-age population poses additional financial problems for the state. Additional expensive bilingual educational programs will be required. It costs an average of 50 percent more to educate a non-English-speaking child.

The cultural implications of ethnic shifts must also be addressed. How will the state's educational system adapt to these shifts in enrollment? Will Hispanic and Asian children be immersed into English language training as was the case with the immigrants of the late 19th century? Will the languages of the motherland be maintained and encouraged? To a considerable extent, the competitiveness of the Texas workforce of the 21st century will be determined by the language training emphasized in the schools. Cultural clashes experienced elsewhere, while not inevitable, may be on the horizon in Texas.


The problems facing the Texas transportation infrastructure are immense and growing. Freeways, bridges, railroad tracks, and mass transit (where available) are all deteriorating. In recent decades, traffic has grown much faster than highway capacity. The number of registered vehicles will approach 23 million by 2020 — a nearly 60 percent increase. An additional 100,000 lane-miles of highways will need to be constructed just to keep pace with the state's population growth.

In the fifty-year period between 1937 and 1987, the total mileage of public streets and roads in Texas increased by less than 90,000 miles, from 204,000 in 1937 to 294,000 in 1987. On the other hand, in the 40-year period between 1947 and 1987, the number of vehicles registered in the state increased from just over two million to almost 14 million; and the amount of motor fuel consumed in the state has increased from just under two billion gallons to more than ten billion gallons per year.

It will be virtually impossible for enough new highway miles to be constructed to keep pace with population growth. This is particularly true as suburbs are extended farther and farther away from the central cities to accommodate the burgeoning population. The result is sprawl, choked highways and increased traffic congestion. Yet inadequate transportation infrastructure stifles economic growth by increasing the costs of moving people and goods from one place to another.

In 1990, there were 85 automobiles and small trucks per 100 people, well above the national average of75 per 100 people. Assuming that this ratio remains constant, by 2020 the number of registered vehicles will approach 23 million compared to 14.5 million in 1990. An additional 100,000 lane-miles of Texas state highways will need to be constructed just to keep pace with the state's population growth. Will the state be able to build and maintain the highway system necessary to accommodate an additional 8.5 million vehicles?

Consider the state's busy transit system, whether bus, plane or train. Population growth tends to over-tax each of these transport systems. All levels of government are struggling to catch up with the needs of growing numbers, and all too often fail to maintain the systems that were built in the past or to improve them for the future.

Other Effects

Another impact of immigration and population growth is on crime and prisons. The serious-crime rate for Texas (7,058 per 100,000 population) is 25 percent higher than that for the nation. Currently there are about 50,000 people in Texas prisons, among whom the Department of Corrections identifies some 4,000 as foreign-born non-citizens. The total rate of incarceration amounts to about 270 per 100,000 population. If this rate remains the same, some 24,000 additional prisoners will need to be housed by 2020. That additional expenditure must be added to school, highway and other infrastructure construction costs.

A matter to consider further is the fiscal impact of immigration. In addition to the costs mentioned above that apply equally to legal and illegal aliens, legal immigrants are entitled to the benefits of our national social safety net. Some segments of the immigrant population tend to use those services more than the national average. Refugees, for example, who immediately become eligible for food stamps and other welfare programs upon arrival, are the most likely immigrants to be dependent on welfare. Because elderly immigrants never work here in order to qualify for social security benefits, they constitute a disproportionate segment of beneficiaries of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Over the past 10 years, the annual average number of new refugees and asylees who settle in Texas has been slightly above 4,400.

In the past, it has often been asserted that immigrants contribute more in taxes than they cost in services. But recent studies disprove this assertion. A study of the fiscal impact of immigration by the Center for Immigration Studies found an estimated 1992 net national cost of $29 billion per year. That study did not identify a specific cost in Texas, and program costs vary by state, but Texas at that time was thought to account for about eight percent of the nation's foreign-born population (and about ten percent of the illegal alien population).

A 1994 study by Dr. Donald Huddle of Rice University put the cost of services for illegal immigrants in Texas at $1.02 billion, and the overall net cost of services to immigrants, whether legal or illegal, at $4.68 billion. The net cost calculation included an estimate that immigrants pay $1.47 billion in taxes annually (see Table 4).

Table: Estimated Costs of Illegal Immigrants in Texas


The Texas lawsuit against the federal government to recover the state costs of services to illegal immigrants over the past six years, filed in August 1994, sought $5 billion. Annual costs for services to illegal immigrants were estimated by the state at $623 million for education, $534 million for health care, and $183 million for criminal justice costs. In response to this suit and those of other states, the federal government commissioned a study by the Urban Institute (UI). Although UI had earlier issued a study that found a net fiscal benefit from immigration, the new study tended to support the cost estimates of Texas. The UI judged the state's estimate of the number of illegal alien prisoners to be too high, but it came up with a higher estimate of illegal alien children in the school system than the state's estimate. In balance the UI study found Texas expending $450 million a year in services to the illegal immigrants, who in turn paid $200 million in taxes, most of which went to Washington rather than to Austin.

There may be uncertainty about the magnitude of the costs involved, because there is no single agreed methodology for calculating them, but there is little doubt that illegal immigration and refugee programs represent a net drain on the state's budget.


Unless there are near-term reductions in immigration and fertility, Texas in the twenty-first century will be much more populous than it is today, and it will be more heterogeneous. How can Texas deal with negative effects on the quality of life implicit in population growth to 25 or 30 million inhabitants? Will the quality of education suffer? Can the labor force of the future match the high-tech demands of the next century? What will the addition of millions of Texans do to the environment? How can the state cope with the increased demands on its transportation, water, electricity, and other infrastructures? How can the major metropolitan areas cope with ever more people of diverse backgrounds? Will interracial peace be possible, or will conflict continue and even intensify? These are some of the questions that all Texans must face up to as a result of the state's rapid growth in population and the shift in the composition of the population.

Although Congress sets immigration policy, states can adopt policies that reduce the incentives for illegal immigration. Many states have implemented fraud-proof state identification systems, including driver's licenses and identification cards that require applicants to provide proof of citizenship or legal residence. States can assist the federal government in reducing job opportunities for unauthorized workers by increasing enforcement of state wage, labor, work place safety and health laws, particularly in industries known for exploiting illegal immigrants. State legislatures also can prohibit the delivery of taxpayer-funded public assistance, non-emergency medical, employment and job-training services to illegal residents. To make the ban on services effective, state agencies that administer these programs can be required to screen out illegal alien applicants through the use of INS' Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program. State government officials should also work closely with the INS to help identify and locate illegal residents. One of the most important contributions state policymakers can make is to encourage a public consensus (especially among employers) that only legal immigrants are welcome. By translating that consensus into action and denying illegal workers from abroad the jobs that they are seeking, the attraction of illegal entry would be significantly diminished, and the work of the Border Patrol would be easier. State organizations also can contribute by encouraging the Texas delegation to Congress to enact legislation reducing levels of legal immigration.

Even in the delicate area of fertility, Texas has some options. Public and private agencies alike merit support in their work to raise the consciousness of all Texans about the issue of high population growth. Progress in educating the public is essential to achieving changing patterns of family size. Mexico provides an interesting model. It has mounted a public information effort in which all forms of media, including soap operas, are used to promote the desirability of small families. There the message is "Fewer but Better." If immigration — legal as well as illegal — were drastically reduced, and infertility were to fall rapidly, Texas' population could be stabilized soon after 2050, instead of spiraling upward indefinitely into the future.

End Note

1 It should be noted that in the 1970 census people were not asked if they were Hispanic. The number was derived from a survey of Spanish surnames. For our purposes, we have subtracted that total from the total White population.


Bean, Frank D., J. Van Hook, and J. Glick. "Poverty and Welfare Recipiency among Immigrants in Texas," Tomás Rivera Center, October 1994, Claremont, CA.

Bouvier, Leon F. and Dudley Poston. Thirty Million Texans? (Washington, D.C.: Center for Immigration Studies, 1993).

Clark, Rebecca L. (with Passel, Zimmermann and Fix.) "Fiscal Impacts of Undocumented Aliens: Selected Estimates for Seven States," Sept. 1994, Urban Institute, Wash., DC.

Huddle, Donald, "The Net Costs of Immigration to Texas," March 1994, Carrying Capacity Network, Wash., DC.

Marshall, F. Ray and Leon Bouvier, Population Change and the Future of Texas, Population Ref. Bureau, 1986, Wash., DC.

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Dr. Leon Bouvier is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and Adjunct Professor of Demography at the Tulane University School of Public Health. He is also a Visiting Scholar at Stetson University and served as a demographer to the U.S. Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy in 1980.

John Martin is the Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. He is a former career Foreign Service Officer who specialized in policy formulation and political analysis.