A project of the Partnership for a New American Economy
Along with nearby states California and Texas, New Mexico is one of the few “minority-majority” states in the US, places where non-Hispanic whites represent less than half of the population. Because of its position as a border state, New Mexico has had a long history of melding cultures, languages, and peoples, starting with the settlement of Spanish immigrants in the 1600s. Today almost 30 percent of residents speak Spanish at home.
New Mexico today continues to attract a large immigrant population. Foreign born individuals make up one in ten of the state’s residents, and their numbers increased by more than 40 percent over the past decade. As this population grows, immigration policy has become a major topic of political debate in New Mexico. Unlike Arizona to its west, New Mexico has not passed any strict immigration enforcement laws like Arizona S.B.1070. Instead, it was one of the first states in the country to pass a state DREAM Act in 2010, conferring certain state benefits to undocumented immigrants.
Size of foreign-born population
Percent of state’s population that is immigrant
Growth in foreign-born population 2000-2010
Top countries of origin
Between 2008 and 2018, science, technology, engineering, and math--or “STEM”--fields are projected to play a key role in US economic growth, adding jobs 73 percent faster than the rest of the economy. Fixing the US immigration system to make it easier for students trained in New Mexico to remain in the country after graduation will be critical: in 2009 close to half the students earning Master’s or PhD degrees in STEM from the state’s research-intensive universities were temporary residents, a group with no clear path to stay in America after collecting their diplomas. In recent years, noncitizens have also earned more than 60 percent of the engineering PhDs granted in the state.
Share of Science/Engineering graduate students who were temporary residents (2010): 22.1%
Share of STEM graduates at state's most research-intensive schools who are foreign born (2009): 45.1%
Share of Engineering PhDs who were temporary residents (2006-2010): 60.5%
Foreign-born students create jobs for New Mexicans and often provide the technological innovations that drive economic growth in the state. A recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute found that for every 100 foreign born graduates of a US Master’s or PhD program who stays in the United States working in a STEM field, 262 jobs are created for Americans. That translates into a sizable jobs boost in New Mexico, a state where highly-educated, foreign born residents have been playing a greater role in the workforce in recent years. In 2010 more than one in six STEM workers with an advanced degree in New Mexico was a foreigner-- more than double their share of the STEM workforce 10 years earlier. During that same period, the share of advanced degree holders working across all fields who were immigrants almost tripled.
Share of foreign born STEM advanced degree workers (2000): 4.6%
Share of foreign born STEM advanced degree workers (2010): 17.1%
Percent increase: 275.9%
Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in New Mexico
Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across New Mexico. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 2,700 jobs and more than $203 million for the state by 2020. Expanding the number of both high-skilled (H-1B) visas will also have positive economic effects. REMI estimates that expansion of the H-1B program would result in more than 750 jobs and add more than $66 million to Gross State Product by 2014.
In New Mexico, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $109 million to Gross State Product in 2014.
Across the US, immigrants start more than a quarter of all businesses in seven of eight sectors of the economy that the federal government expects to grow the fastest over the next decade, including healthcare, construction, retail, and educational services. In New Mexico, as in the rest of the country, immigrants have made an outsized contribution to business growth: in 2010, more than 12 percent of business owners in New Mexico were immigrants, despite making up 10 percent of the total population. From 2006 to 2010, immigrant-owned businesses generated almost $389 million in income for the state each year. The 2010 purchasing power of Latinos in New Mexico totaled $20 billion—an increase of more than 300 percent since 1990.
Share of business owners in New Mexico who are immigrants: 12.6%
Number of businesses founded by immigrants, 2006-2010: 11,440
Immigrant entrepreneurs have long made significant contributions to New Mexico’s economy. Two of the state’s largest supermarket chains, El Mezquite and El Paisano, were founded by immigrants. Nationally, more than 40 percent of the country’s Fortune 500 firms were founded by immigrants or their children.
Despite increases in the number of immigrants earning advanced degrees, New Mexico remains short of the professional workers it needs in STEM areas, fields that help its economy remain innovative and competitive. According to the nonpartisan advocacy group Change the Equation, from 2009 to 2011 some 2.1 STEM job openings were posted online in New Mexico for every one unemployed STEM worker in the state.
Ratio of STEM jobs to unemployed STEM workers: 2.1:1
Healthcare and other service industries have experienced the highest rates of growth in New Mexico in recent years, and immigrants may be needed in the future to help fill a looming health worker shortage. The federal government estimates New Mexico will be short 10,200 registered nurses by 2020. And although New Mexico currently has 229.8 physicians per 100,000 residents, nearly a third of physicians are older than 60 and will soon transition out of the workforce. A third of all medical school trainees also leave the state. Immigrants are already playing a major role filling such labor gaps: In 2010 more than one in six physicians in New Mexico graduates of foreign medical schools, a population that is overwhelmingly immigrant.
Number of physicians per 100,000: 229.8
Share of physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools: 17.2%
According to a study by the Center for American Progress and the Partnership for a New American Economy, New Mexico would also benefit significantly if Congress passed the federal DREAM Act, a bill that would legalize the 2.1 million undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children. In New Mexico, a state-level version of the DREAM Act allows the 19,000 DREAMers in the state to enjoy in-state tuition and financial aid at public universities. Passing the federal bill, however, would have an estimated $691 million induced economic impact on New Mexico and create almost 10,000 new jobs by 2030. These benefits would arise because these young people would be further incentivized to earn a higher education degree with federal financial aid and allowed to work legally, resulting in higher earnings and increased spending on products ranging from cars to houses to computers.
Sergio Bermudez, the President and CEO of the El Mezquite Market chain in New Mexico, and his five siblings emigrated from the Mexican state of Sonora in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They started working jobs in a wide array of construction fields in Arizona—including concrete pouring and steel working. Looking at some cousins who owned a meat market in Phoenix, the siblings began to think about opening their own store. By 1998, they sold off family cars and borrowed money from family members to buy a small, 3,000-square foot space in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They did the renovations themselves—commuting in from Arizona on nights and weekends—and bought used equipment on monthly installments. “It was hard,” Sergio says. But Bermudez says his family learned the virtues of hard work in Mexico, a country with little social support. “We’re used to an environment where if you don’t work hard,” he explains, “you don’t eat.”
The first El Mezquite store, which sold thin, Mexican cuts of meat, as well as imported delicacies like goats-milk candy, tomatillo sauces, and fresh papayas, did so well with the local Latino population that the family was able to open a second store by the end of 1998. Today, their six large markets throughout central New Mexico serve 40,000 customers per week and provide a wide array of services needed by their largely Latino customer base. El Alamo Casas de Cambio, an in-store money-wiring and check-cashing service the family founded in 2003, now wires more money to Mexico than any other provider in the state. On-site restaurants provide customers sit down service for lunch, and phone cards are sold in house. “People are very comfortable with us, and they trust us,” Bermudez says, “That’s incredibly important to our success.”
Today El Mezquite is one of the fastest growing Latino immigrant owned businesses in New Mexico, employing a staff of more than 220 people. “I never would’ve imagined we’d grow so fast,” says Bermudez, who never formally trained in the grocery business. His success has inspired others in the community: although just two Latino-focused grocery stores existed in Albuquerque when his store opened, now there are at least 18. He and his siblings are now trying to help the next generation. In the last four years, his company has provided scholarships to 54 immigrant students attending the University of New Mexico.
Immigrants are helping to grow the US economy everywhere, not just in the places—like our biggest cities—that we expect. They are helping to fill labor shortages on America’s farms, starting businesses that employ US workers, and developing the cutting-edge products that make America the world’s preeminent innovation hub.
Click on a state to learn more about the contributions immigrants are making to the local economy.