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Immigrants Start Businesses, Don’t Want Hand-Outs

Elizabeth Cervantes is co-founder of the Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project (SSIP), a nonprofit that advocates for immigrant rights. Based in Bolingbrook, Illinois, the organization caters to the fast-growing immigrant population in the suburbs of Chicago. “About 54 percent of undocumented immigrants in Illinois live in suburban Cook county and collar counties,” Cervantes says. “And there was no one working to empower that population, stand up for them, or help communities realize their contributions.”

Immigrants want to thrive and contribute highly to the business circle and consumerism.

SSIP launched in 2010, and in addition to working with undocumented immigrants to provide know-your-rights training and education seminars and to create civic engagement, it holds an annual event called Day of the Immigrant, intended to showcase the population’s economic contributions. “Bolingbrook is a town of north of 74,000, and one of every four people is Latino. And a lot of those people are business owners, creating a lot of booming commerce,” Cervantes says. She’s right: In Bolingbrook’s congressional district, there are more than 3,200 immigrant entrepreneurs, according to New American Economy research, and immigrants overall hold $3.2 billion in annual spending power. “The first year, we had 200 people come out in support of the cause and the community; in 2016, the crowd at the event had 10,000,” she says.

Cervantes’ greatest hope for immigration reform is that a path to legalization and citizenship will be created for undocumented residents, with special consideration for those young people who qualify for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). She’d also like to see a reconsideration of the bans applied to immigrants who left the United States for consular processing and to people who were previously deported and are trying to secure a visa to return to the United States to reunite with their families. “There’s this wrong assumption that immigrants in the suburbs want free things and to be taken care of,” she says. “But immigrants want to thrive and contribute highly to the business circle and consumerism.”

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