CFL News
April 12, 2013

Road to stronger economy, communities includes citizenship

Illinois labor leaders join small business owners in call for immigration reform

Source: Crain's Chicago Business

By Jorge Ramirez, Michael Carrigan and David Borris

As you read this, the United States has more than 11 million aspiring citizens who rent or own homes, raise families, work hard, start businesses, pay taxes and do their fair share in thousands of cities and towns across our country. That sounds great, until you realize they live here as second-class citizens. We need to fix that.

Immigrants have played a vital role in our country for centuries, and it's something we should be proud of. But immigrants can't contribute fully — or reap the full rewards of their hard work — without a road map to citizenship. Now is the time for real immigration reform. That begins with a fair and practical road map to citizenship.

All working people and all current or future business owners who strive every day to give their families a decent life would benefit from a workable immigration system. It would strengthen our local economies by building on immigrants' valuable contributions to our communities.

From a worker perspective, with a proper process in place, immigrant workers will be able to defend their rights and contribute their fair share at work and in our communities. From a small-business perspective, it will strengthen the customer base for current small businesses and spur new business formation by immigrant entrepreneurs. Both of these trends will strengthen small businesses, create jobs and boost local economies.


The case for immigration policy reform goes beyond the economics. Working people and small-business owners across America believe that our immigration laws should reflect our country's values as a democratic society. Recent polling of voters found that 77 percent favor a package of immigration reforms including a road map to citizenship. And a new poll of small-business owners released last week by the Main Street Alliance and the American Sustainable Business Council found that 67 percent support immigration reformwith a road map to citizenship, with support across party lines.

For this country to live up to its ideals, hard work must be fairly rewarded. That's the foundation of the American dream, the same dream that the courageous young students and future workers and business owners known as the Dreamers have been pursuing boldly for years. These young people have been advocating passionately for years for a proposal called the Dream Act, which would allow them to get their immigration status fixed, go to college and follow their dreams (the policy goals of the Dream Act are being discussed as part of the broader conversation about a comprehensive immigration package).

Dreamers are just one compelling example of our broken immigration system. Young people who are bright, educated and American in every way except on paper should not be forced to go back to a country they hardly know. Instead, their initiative and passion should be rewarded with the opportunity to become citizens, attend college and pursue their dreams — like starting a small business — here in America.

The Illinois AFL-CIO and the Illinois Main Street Alliance look forward to working together toward a solution in the months ahead. We want to persuade members of Congress across the political spectrum to do the right thing. We will build a big tent of community and business allies to ensure that everyone in Illinois and across America — regardless of where they were born or what they look like — can participate in and contribute to our communities and local economies with full rights and equal protection.

It's time to do the right thing for the 11 million aspiring citizens we call neighbors, friends and co-workers. It's time to do the right thing for the communities and country we all call home.

David Borris is founder and owner of Hel's Kitchen Catering in Northbrook and serves on the national steering committee of the Main Street Alliance small-business network; Jorge Ramirez is president of the Chicago Federation of Labor; Michael Carrigan is president of the Illinois AFL-CIO.