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Migrant communities affected by Biden policy call North Texas home

Three men work inside a restaurant kitchen. One is washing dishes, one is sweeping the floor and the other is cleaning a cooking grill.
Stella M. Chávez
/
KERA News
Employees of Nicaraguita-Mex restaurant in Dallas clean up the kitchen after the last customer has left. All of the workers came to North Texas from Nicaragua.

It’s the end of a long day of cooking and serving customers at Nicaraguita-Mex restaurant in Dallas.

Jimmy Salmeron and a couple of workers are sweeping, washing dishes and scraping grease and food off a grill. Here you can find a number of Nicaraguan favorites — Baho, Nacatamales and Chanco con Yuca.

Salmeron, 45, has operated this restaurant for the past six years inside the Super Fiesta Bazaar on the western edge of Oak Cliff off State Highway Loop 12.

“The truth is that a lot of people are coming to the U.S., but everyone deserves an opportunity and well, this is the land of opportunities,” said Salmeron who’s originally from Nicaragua.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced a so-called parole process for citizens from Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba, modeled after a program launched for Venezuelans last October. Under this process, the U.S. is allowing up to 30,000 individuals from these countries a month to come to the U.S. for two years. Once here, they can get work authorization and seek asylum.

Historically, Mexicans have made up a large percentage of immigrants in North Texas, but migrants from Central and South America have been setting roots here too — and they’ve been helping shape the cultural fabric. Some are entrepreneurs, some are students and some are still learning to navigate a new country and new way of life.

Salmeron said he’s doing his part to help other immigrants in his community. Two of his workers, for example, also came from Nicaragua. Both arrived before this new program was announced and say they’re going through the asylum process.

“I don’t think anyone wants to migrate," said Michael Ruiz Castro. “It’s a difficult decision to leave your country, leave everything you know.”

The 26-year-old said he left Nicaragua because he no longer felt safe after speaking out about politics. Ruiz Castro said he has mixed feelings about the Biden administration’s newly unveiled immigration policy.

I think the recent announcement, which affects Nicaraguans, is good, but I also have some doubts,” he said.

While it offers an opportunity for some to come here, he said others may not have someone in the U.S. can financially support them as the program requires.

Photo of a menu listing Nicaraguan dishes and their prices.
Stella M. Chávez
/
KERA News
Nicaraguita-Mex restaurant in Dallas sells both Nicaraguan and Mexican dishes. This menu shows the Nicaraguan dishes.

Nicaragua is just one of the countries whose citizens now call North Texas home. According to the Texas Demographic Center, 17,074 people whose birthplace was Nicaragua lived in Texas in 2021 and that number stayed around the same over a five-year period.

Cubans and Venezuelans, however, saw considerable growth. In 2016, 35,857 Cubans lived in Texas. Five years later, their population grew to 59,424 people, a 65.7% increase. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan population in Texas grew by 150%, going from 29,904 to 62,285 people.

“Over time, what we’ve seen, of course, is a real decline in the entrance of Mexicans into this country, then followed by the populations from the Northern Triangle, those Central American countries, a lot having to do with problems in those countries,” said Caroline Brettell, distinguished professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Brettell said migration trends have shifted.

“A lot of what I think Americans have to realize is that there are all these impelling push factors, right, that are the countries in which these people come from are such dire economic straits or dire political straits, and that's really sort of forcing people out,” Brettell said.

What she finds interesting is that populations that have historically gone elsewhere are now coming to the Texas, like Venezuelans.

Johanna Linares came from Venezuela with her family in 2011 but previously lived here when she attended college. She’s now a board member of the nonprofit Casa Venezuela in Dallas. She said the Venezuelan community in North Texas has grown considerably and so has its needs.

“Definitely this is one of the epicenters for Venezuelans for the last, I would say, five years that it's been intense, very, very intense,” she said. “Even during the peak of the pandemic, there were many [people] coming daily or weekly to the metroplex.”

Linares said it’s been exciting welcoming people from her country, but it has also worried her because her organization is small and relies on help from volunteers.

“Their needs are adding up and it’s been hard,” she said. “But in hardship, there is always some creativity and we have had the opportunity to work [alongside] experts in the area."

Linares said Casa Venezuela has been working with other aid organizations like Catholic Charities and refugee resettlement groups.

“We just have been learning with them and using their resources to guide our people.”

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez at schavez@kera.org. You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.