U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D, IL-11) met with a group of Hispanic business leaders in Joliet on Monday to discuss how the federal government can better support minority business owners and, subsequently, the community at large.
Passing immigration reform, both elected officials agreed, is the single-most important thing Congress can to do benefit the Hispanic community and its business leaders.
By providing a streamlined path to citizenship for America’s more than 11 million undocumented immigrants, the country would see significant economic growth, including increases in tax revenues and jobs, Durbin and Foster both said.
“(Immigration reform) takes the fear out of the lives of those who are here undocumented," Durbin said. "It gives them a chance to get legal status and it fixes this broken immigration system. It died in the House, it’s just been sitting there for almost a year now. That’s just awful.”
In an effort to discuss the local Hispanic business landscape and the needs of the community, the meeting was held at the Joliet Chamber of Commerce with about two dozen business leaders and members of the Alianza De Negocios, an organization of local Hispanic professionals.
“On the east side of Joliet we have seen a lot of small businesses develop, and we’re hoping that will continue to grow,” said Maria Alcantar, an Alianza De Negocios board member.
In the meeting, Foster specifically targeted House Speaker John Boehner (R, OH-8), saying he single-handedly blocked the bipartisan immigration reform package passed by the Senate in June.
Boehner snubbed the Senate’s legislation shortly after the bill was passed and, instead of considering the bipartisan legislation, GOP leaders are working on immigration reform proposals in a piecemeal fashion.
“John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, could wake up any day and listen to the teachings of this church and bring up comprehensive immigration reform, bring up the Senate bill,” Foster said. “Five days after that, comprehensive immigration reform is the law of the land.”
Despite Republican leadership's inaction on the bill, Foster told Progress Illinois that immigration reform is not dead.
“It may be sleeping until the lame duck session, it may be waiting for an election where both parties will see very clearly that ignoring the Hispanic community, and immigrant communities as a whole, is a path to suicide,” he said.
Both Durbin and Foster also called on the meeting’s attendees to register eligible voters.
“When we can vote, we can make a difference,” Durbin said. “There are many people who are eligible to register, who won’t register to vote. So, voter registration is the first step. Get them registered, get your numbers up, then call politicians and say, ‘We’d sure like to meet with you, we’ve got a group of voters here.’ Watch what happens.”
Here's more from Foster and Durbin at Monday’s meeting:
Meanwhile, Lupe Vega, owner of V & H Industries Inc., a Romeoville-based landscaping and janitorial company, said immigration reform could help level the business playing field.
“We need to be competitive with the bigger companies, small businesses like mine don’t have the capital,” Vega said. “And when companies hire undocumented workers and exploit cheap labor, it upsets the balance even more.”
“Immigration reform would allow so many people to work legally,” he added. "It would definitely benefit my business."