Guest opinion: Immigration reform also good for business

July 13, 2013

 Last month, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform package. The vote was an impressive 68-32. Now the debate moves to the House of Representatives, where Eastern Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has a key leadership role.

 Some Republican representatives in the House are stirring up opposition to immigration reform by rehashing old talking points about “amnesty” and “taking jobs.”  It seems to me in their rush to opposition they’ve missed a key factor: the connections between immigration and small business.

 My family story is an immigration story. My mother, father, siblings and I arrived in Spokane from Jordan in 1973. Our story is also a small-business story. My father went from being a Seventh-day Adventist minister in Jordan to running the night shift at a 7-Eleven store in Spokane. Through hard work and long hours, my family saved up until we could buy the store at Nevada Street and Empire Avenue and become small-business owners.

 My parents instilled in my siblings and me a strong work ethic and an entrepreneurial spirit. Every one of us became small-business owners.

 When I was still in college at Eastern Washington University, I started Azar’s Café here in Spokane. When I decided to leave for graduate school, I turned the café over to family. I got a graduate degree, worked in the banking sector and lived overseas for a while, but was drawn back to Spokane and got back into the food business again in 2003.

 About five years ago, I started Café MAC at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. At the same time, people were telling me, “Victor, your hummus is so great you should package it.” So I decided to take another risk.

 I started Victor’s Hummus three and a half years ago. We got our product on the shelves of a few stores, and it disappeared practically overnight. Now we deliver to almost 50 stores across the Inland Northwest from Hood River, Ore., to North Idaho to Bozeman.

 We are scaling up production so that soon we’ll be able to obtain bigger out-of-town accounts, and that means more income we’ll be bringing into Spokane, more jobs, more tax dollars – and it’s all because of an immigrant entrepreneur like me.

 This shows in the statistics, too: Immigrants are more than twice as likely as U.S.-born citizens to start a new business, and one out of every 10 workers in the private sector works for a business founded or owned by an immigrant.

 This is why I think immigration reform – reform that boosts our economy, includes a reasonable path to citizenship, and brings people out of the shadows to work, pay taxes and start businesses – just makes sense.

 It’s not just the small-business connection some politicians seem to be missing, it’s also that they’ve lost touch with the core conservative principles of free enterprise and individual liberty.

 How can you be for free enterprise but support a status quo that severely restricts the flow of human capital and has negative impacts on growth and prosperity?

 How can you be for individual liberty but support a status quo that forces millions of people to continue living in the shadows, in a country we so proudly call the “land of opportunity”?

 The bill passed by the Senate isn’t perfect. But it’s a huge step forward. And it’s a far better approach than the piecemeal reforms considered in the House.

 You don’t build a successful business by thinking small. You do it by thinking big. That’s what our country needs right now: big thinking to fix immigration, not piecemeal nibbling around the edges.

 Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, recently put into three sentences why immigration reform is a Republican issue: “We believe in pro-growth economics. We believe in entrepreneurialism. Well, that’s immigration.”

 Immigration reform is a chance for Republicans in the House to show their entrepreneurial spirit by pushing for a comprehensive, economy-boosting reform package.

 McMorris Rodgers has an opportunity to lead here. For our economy, for the country and for future generations of small-business owners and job creators like me, I hope she’ll take it.

 Victor Azar is the founder and owner of Café MAC and Victor’s Hummus, two Spokane-based small businesses.


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