Economy Driving More Puerto Ricans to Make Texas Their Home

Economy is driving people off the island and into Texas

On a hot autumn day, dozens of construction workers are finishing a new bridge for expanded traffic in Coppell.

"It was two lanes, now it's four lanes," said Ismael Carrasquillo, owner of CD Builders, Inc.

The promise of economic prosperity brought Carrasquillo to the Dallas-Fort Worth area from Puerto Rico two years ago. Now he has more than 100 workers and several construction projects throughout the state.

"It's growing so fast," said Carrasquillo, about the growth of North Texas. "It's something else I've never seen. It's crazy. It's crazy!"

A better future for his family is what brought Yesef Cordero to North Texas a year ago. The former Secretary of Housing of Puerto Rico left the island to start his own law practice in Grapevine. His family said they waited too long to make the move.

"The only regret they [Cordero's family] have basically is that we should have done this [move] earlier," Cordero said.

An economic crisis means Puerto Ricans are becoming disenchanted with la isla del encanto -- a Spanish nickname that refers to the enchanting beauty of the island.

"It's a combination of factors," said Cordero. "You have the economy. It hasn't been growing for nine years. Some people call it recession. I personally call it 'depression'."

According the Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in Puerto Rico is 12.6 percent, compared to 4.1 percent in Texas.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported the median income is $19,624 on the island. It is $51,900 here in Texas.

From 1990 to 2000, the Pew Research Center reported nearly 11,000 Puerto Ricans left the island for the U.S. mainland annually to seek better opportunities. Between 2010-2013, that number spiked to 48,000 people leaving every year.

Cities in New York and Florida have historically appealed to Puerto Ricans. But with Hispanics projected to be the majority population in Texas by 2014, there's a need for U.S. citizens who speak English and Spanish fluently. Both languages are taught in Puerto Rican schools.

The Dallas Police Department and the Dallas Independent School District regularly recruit from Puerto Rico.

"We don't carry VISA's," Cordero said. "We don't even need passports."

A study by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York said there's been a 119 percent increase in Puerto Ricans who've migrated to Texas between 2005-2013.

Ismael Carrasquillo said his mother and one daughter remain in Puerto Rico and he misses them a lot. However, moving the Texas was the right move.

"When I first got here I thought I was going to be here for a couple of years and go back because I miss it so much," said Carrasquillo. "But at this point, I think I will stay."

Cordero agreed.

"Puerto Rico will always be Puerto Rico and it will have a special place in my heart," said Cordero. "But this is home now. Texas is home now and we're proud to call it home."

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