“You should see my wife on the Fourth of July, decked out in red, white, and blue,” says Scott Rickles, a Georgia native and the co-owner of a successful language school in Carroll County. “She’s extremely patriotic and loves this country to her core.”
His wife, Rocio, was an Assemblies of God pastor whom Rickles met and married in Mexico, after serving as a missionary at her church in Ciudad Victoria, Mexico. Rickles’ family traveled south of the border for their 1994 wedding. “In Mexican culture, you don’t send out invitations,” he explains. “It’s by word of mouth. So everybody and their brother and two cousins came out for a festive and fun mix of American and Mexican traditions. It was an eye-opener for both our families.”
A less pleasant eye-opener for Rickles came when the couple started applying for Rocio’s green card. “We wanted to do everything completely legal,” says Rickles. That, he discovered, meant “a lot of waking up at 4 a.m. to stand in long, long lines for about two weeks and doing constant interviews where you’re asked to give the same information over and over.” But they made it through, and his wife received her citizenship in about five years.
I know a lot of other people who would like to be able to give back, too — if only there were a clear path for them to do so.
Since then, Rocio has joined the ranks of immigrant entrepreneurs. In 2016, she and her husband started the Que Pasa Conversational Language School, which offers classes and services in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and French. Que Pasa also creates custom programs for corporations, schools, police, medics, and more. “My dream has always been to start a conversational language school to teach language to immigrants coming in so they can assimilate into the community and reach these other cultures,” says Rickles.
In fact, accelerating an immigrant’s English proficiency does help him get a better job. It also helps the regional and national economy. Studies show that a lack of English skills is the largest contributor to underemployment and a major contributor to unemployment in the immigrant population. Combined, these factors rob the U.S. economy of tens of billions of dollars in spending power and deprive federal and state governments of billions of dollars in annual tax revenue. “The goal is to make it so that language is no longer a barrier,” says Rickles.
As entrepreneurs, the Rickles have joined a robust immigrant tradition. New Americans found companies at substantially higher rates than do U.S. born residents, making them critical job drivers in the U.S. economy. Overall, new firms create an average of 1.5 million jobs for Americans each year. Today there are 2.9 million immigrant entrepreneurs in the United States who generate a combined $65.5 billion in business income — money that gets redistributed throughout the U.S. economy.
Rickles says his foreign-born wife has been critical to the success of their company, which was recently named a business of the month by their county’s chamber of commerce. “She is helping me with the language and cultural training, because she wants to give back to the country that has given her so much,” says Rickles. “I know a lot of other people who would like to be able to give back, too — if only there were a clear path for them to do so.”
Rickles would like to see immigration reform that would allow more people like his wife to contribute to the country they’ve chosen to call home. “There are a small fraction of people who should not be here,” he says. “But by and far, most of the people we’ve met are honest, hardworking people who love this country and appreciate the opportunity to come in and pursue the American dream in a way they have not been able to in their home countries.” In Georgia’s Third Congressional District, which hugs the west-central border and include’s the Rickles’ home, 7,499 immigrants are homeowners and 2,023 immigrants are business owners. They wield $775 million in spending power and pay $258 million in taxes.
“My biggest issue is that the current pathway is so fraught with difficulties that it seems like you’re being penalized for doing things the right way,” Rickles says. His wife did eventually receive a temporary visa, but bureaucratic mistakes along the way made the experience unsettling. ”They lost her paperwork at one point,” he says.
Rickles believes that reforming the immigration system would lead to fewer undocumented immigrants entering the country. “We didn’t expect them to roll out the red carpet,” he says. But between accusations and inefficiencies, “it was awful.”