Immigration reform not only is the right thing to do, it's "an economic imperative," says Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Palomarez was in the middle of the contentious immigration reform debate today, thanks to Sen. Rand Paul's speech to his organization's legislative summit in Washington, D.C. The Kentucky Republican, who has emerged as a leading contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, outlined his ideas for immigration reform in a widely followed speech. Palomarez hopes Paul's support for immigration reform will persuade other conservatives to join the effort to legalize undocumented workers in the U.S.
At the Hispanic Chamber, Palomarez noted, Republican is "not a four-letter word."
That's because this Hispanic group is all about business. So is immigration reform, he said.
Businesses owned by immigrants employ 1 out of every 10 workers in the U.S., Palomarez noted.
"One cannot claim to support small business without supporting immigrant-owned businesses," he said.
Economists estimate that comprehensive immigration reform would add $1.5 trillion to the United States' gross domestic product over 10 years, and $66 billion in additional tax revenue, he said.
"These numbers are too important and too large to ignore," he said.
Granting undocumented workers a pathway to citizenship would result in the creation of many more immigrant-owned businesses, he said.
But if these new business owners are going to have a major impact on the economy, they're going to need capital beyond their savings, credit cards and money provided by friends and family members. Banks and the Small Business Administration still have a ways to go to serve the needs of Hispanic-owned businesses.
SBA-backed lending to Hispanic businesses is up, in dollars, around 20 percent so far this year. But Hispanic firms still are getting only 7 percent of the loans approved through the agency's flagship 7(a) program.
The SBA is trying to do more to reach the Hispanic community; it's working with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to get the word out about its programs, and I was honored to moderate a panel on SBA resources at the chamber's legislative summit. You can choose Spanish as an option when you check out SBA programs on the agency's web site. And the agency's resource partners, such as the national network of Small Business Development Centers, have Spanish-speaking counselors available to speak to business owners and prospective business owners.
This technical assistance can be crucial in obtaining a loan, especially in pulling together the information needed to show a lender that you've got a business worth backing. The SBA's loan guarantees then play an important role in persuading lenders to make loans they otherwise might pass on.
With an SBA loan guarantee, "a lot of nos or sorta yeses turn into yeses," said Scott Geller, CEO of Business Banking for Chase.
Geller should know -- Chase makes more SBA loans than any other lender.
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