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In Houston, Businesses Feel The Pinch As Undocumented Consumers Limit Spending

Houston shopping

Photo credit: Photo: Godofredo A. Vasquez, Houston Chronicle

Inside the PlazAmericas Mall in southwest Houston, where merchants sell baptism dresses, artisanal pottery and piñatas, the hallways are empty and bored employees pass the time on cellphones. The few shoppers remaining barely glance at vacant storefronts, omens of a new threat to business.

Toward the back of the complex, which has catered to immigrant customers since 2009, store owner Emilia Alvarez snipped the sleeves off a button-up men’s shirt she hasn’t sold in months. Last year, Alvarez could easily rack up $1,000 at E-Mily’s Boutique on any given Sunday. She had a loyal following among fellow immigrants who are living in the United States illegally.

Then Donald Trump was elected president, promising a border wall and mass deportations – and her sales plummeted.

Christmas sales in 2016 totaled $800, a $6,200 drop from the previous year. Sunday sales in January averaged $500. On the first Sunday of October, she made $160.

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In one month alone, Alvarez lost 10 longtime customers – they left the country.
The same is happening across the city – at mom-and-pop operations and big-box stores, shopping centers and discount boutiques that cater to Houston’s huge immigrant population and its 575,000 immigrants living here illegally. Business is sluggish, sales sporadic and shoppers sparse.
The slowdown is a response to a new reality for immigrants in Houston and across the country, one that began to unfurl after Trump’s election ushered in a crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities, the stepped-up immigration enforcement and, most recently, the phasing out of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for young immigrants.
As immigrants living here illegally grapple with greater fears of being deported or detained, they have cut back on spending, shuttered businesses and begun planning to move out of Texas.

In Houston, where foreign-born residents make up almost one-third of the workforce and nearly 30 percent of small business owners, that could mean a substantial loss to the greater economy and a crippling blow to the labor pool.

Alvarez spent a decade shoring up her shop, the lifelong dream of a designer growing up in El Salvador. Seeing her own handmade fashions fly off the shelves made the pain of leaving her mother……

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