Dominican immigrant Jose Brito grew up in poverty but now runs WeCare, a domestic-care company with 147 employees and annual revenues of around $3 million. When he was just 10 years old, his father — leaving their home in Santo Domingo — stowed away in a cargo ship bound for the United States. He hid in the space where the anchor was stored, and to this day bears an impressive scar where he burned his right leg against hot machinery. He made it to Camden, New Jersey, started a bodega, and eventually, gained a green card. In 1992, he brought Brito to the United States as a legal immigrant.
“I’m very grateful that he did what he had to do — the sacrifices he made for the sake of the family,” Brito says. “He brought me here, and I’m trying to do the best I can to fulfill and pay back a bit of that sacrifice.”
Brito didn’t have an easy start in the United States. Within a week of his arrival, his father’s bodega burned down, leaving the family with nothing. “When you’re an immigrant, you don’t know all the laws and regulations,” Brito explains. “He didn’t have business insurance, so when the business burned down, he was bankrupt, basically.” Brito and his father moved in with a relative, and at the age of just 18, Brito found himself working a series of low-paying jobs to try to help his family rebuild. “We had to do what we had to do to survive,” he says. “I did many jobs: I had a job in a print shop as a salesman; real estate agent; taxi driver; truck driver.”
Along the way, Brito earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Rowan University. Soon after graduating, he was looking after an elderly relative when he came up with the idea for his business. “Every day, I used to stop by my stepmother’s mom to give her breakfast,” he explains. “Someone made a sarcastic comment: ‘Hey, you’re good at that, you should just take care of old people.’ So that’s why I started WeCare.”
The business, which focuses on providing home-based care for the elderly and disabled, proved a success, thanks in part to a $65,000 grant from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative, and now has two offices and over 200 clients spread across New Jersey and Pennsylvania. That’s just the beginning, Brito says. “We’re planning to open at least 10 more offices — five more in New Jersey and five in Pennsylvania.”
With America’s elderly population set to double by 2030, immigrant entrepreneurs and care-workers like Brito could be a vital resource. A report found that immigrants —who are 38.6 percent more likely than the U.S.-born to be of working age, and who are often drawn to work in the healthcare sector – are poised to play a key role in helping the United States to meet the needs of its aging population.
Brito says being an immigrant has made him a better entrepreneur, giving him drive and ambition, and an appreciation of the opportunities America has to offer. That’s a typical story: There are 2,147 immigrant entrepreneurs in New Jersey’s First Congressional District alone, and statewide, immigrant-owned businesses employ 270,431 people. “When you come here, you’re hungry to fulfill all those dreams that in your country it was hard to reach,” he says. “You see so many opportunities. The people here complain, because they don’t know what they have, but you’re hungry for success, and willing to work hard for it.”
Now Brito says he’s working to give something back to his new home. He serves on the board of education for Camden, and is a member of numerous business groups and philanthropic organizations, including the New Jersey Hispanic Leadership Summit. “When your God blesses you, you have to give back to the community that receives you and welcomes you,” Brito explains.
They’re here anyway, and they’re working — they aren’t parasites, they’re giving back to the system.
Brito feels fortunate to have been able to come to America legally, and wants undocumented immigrants to get the same opportunities he has had. “I want amnesty, to give a chance to those who’ve been here for 10 or 15 or 20 years — they should be eligible to get their papers,” he says. “They’re here anyway, and they’re working — they aren’t parasites, they’re giving back to the system. They buy in local markets, they provide jobs, they pay rent. They should have a chance to get paperwork, so they can live a more decent life.”
Brito says his own story shows what immigrants can achieve when they’re given legal status and a chance to build a better future for themselves. Brito isn’t sure how his father was able to gain a green card, but he’s grateful that it was possible. “Because my father was lucky enough to get his papers straight and legal, that’s why we were able to come,” he says. “And now you can see the people I’m employing here, and how I’m giving back to the community.”