Abe Miller co-owns an apparel embroidery and design business in Cleveland, Ohio. He supports immigration reform because he feels a connection between his largely Chinese workforce and his own immigrant grandparents who came to the United States from Eastern Europe.
When Abe Miller looks out over his apparel factory in downtown Cleveland and its largely Chinese-born workforce, he is reminded of his own grandparents. “I get choked up,” he says, thinking about his dad’s mother and father and their desire to make a better life for themselves in America. They came here with very little, with no knowledge of English and succeeded in laying down roots. But Abe can only imagine what a struggle that was for them. And so he and his wife Barbie have made it a priority to treat their immigrant employees like family.
They throw an annual Chinese New Year party for their staff, including their spouses, grandparents, and kids. They throw baby showers for expecting staff members and even invite their employees to their home for a Thanksgiving celebration. “The way people say ‘immigrant,’ it sounds so harsh,” Abe says. “But we were all immigrants at one time. I hope when our grandparents and great-grandparents came here, they had employers who cared about them as well.”
The Millers started Graffiti in 1984 as a small retail store and gradually expanded it into a successful hat embroidery and design service, largely for corporate accounts. It wasn’t until this expansion in the early 1990s, however, that the Millers realized how vital access to immigrant workers would be. “Their work ethic is extraordinary,” Abe says. “They’re everything you’d want in an employee. People who aren’t born here, they’re interested in finding out what they can do for us, not the other way around.” Today Graffiti employs over 70 people and produces more than 10,000 units a week.
Abe says in the apparel industry, it is nearly impossible to find American-born workers to do the kind of cutting and sewing required to keep his business running—and to keep it operating on American soil. He says his employees’ children will do internships at Graffiti, but they don’t see a career there. They’re largely pursuing higher education, entering the professional class and making their own economic contributions to America.
Abe understands this. When his grandparents came here, they worked the kind of labor-intensive jobs that allowed their offspring to gain a foothold, go to college, and eventually open a successful business like Graffiti. For this reason, Abe says, Congress needs to take action. “If we don’t continue inviting immigrants, there will be no labor for American businesses. Without our Asian workforce, we wouldn’t be here. We couldn’t compete.”
This story appears as part of the Partnership for a New American Economy’s Reason for Reform campaign, which features hundreds of stories from individuals around the country sharing their reasons for immigration reform. To give your reason, learn more about the project here.