Ricardo Quinones was six months old when his family left Mexico for the United States. Today, he uses his college degree in psychology as a “behavioral implementer” — focusing on the well-being and care of his clients, who suffer from intense behavioral issues. The overall goal is to decrease unwanted behaviors with positive coping strategies and intervene when clients display dangerous behaviors to self, others and their environment.
He’s not married yet, but hopes to be someday. In the meantime, he says, until that happens he’s focusing on self-improvement and challenging himself to become a better person each day.
Ricardo is also a Dreamer, one of nearly 800,000 young people for whom the clock is ticking, following the Trump administration’s decision to rescind the program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
DACA provided work authorization and protection from deportation to young immigrants who have completed school or served in our military, passed rigorous background checks, and met a number of other strict eligibility criteria. The future of Ricardo and other young people is now in jeopardy, and the impact this could have on our economy is significant.
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Ricardo is one of the panelists on a business roundtable the Chamber is hosting Wednesday, joining leaders across industries in all 50 states calling on Congress to take action and protect Dreamers.
DACA recipients are working in nearly every sector of our economy from hospitality to technology, and their economic power is indisputable. Research by the New American Economy found that Dreamers earn almost $19.9 billion in total annual income, and contribute more than $3 billion to federal and state taxes across the country.
DACA recipients, and all immigrants, are also more likely to be entrepreneurs. One such entrepreneur is Ike Nwabuonwu Sr., co-founder of Alpha Energy and Electric and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s Mr. K Award winner as 2017 Small Business of the Year. Ike and his partner Gabe Okafor migrated to Kansas City from Nigeria. In 2004, they opened a small, two-room office. Today, Ike and Gabe employ 50 people, operating out of their 10,00-square-foot office headquarters on Troost where they work for the betterment of their neighborhood. Ike and Gabe are two of our region’s nearly 7,000 immigrant entrepreneurs.
In 2015, immigrants in the Kansas City metro area contributed $8.6 billion to local gross domestic product and held $3 billion in spending power. That’s according to Immigrants as Economic Drivers in the Kansas City Metro Area in 2015, a research brief the Chamber is releasing Wednesday in partnership with the New American Economy. The report is being released in conjunction with the launch of a national campaign for immigration reform — iMarch for Immigration.
We show that immigrants in Kansas City are more likely to be working age and are overrepresented in key industries like health care and the STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and math. They are starting businesses that enhance our innovation, creating jobs for all Americans and helping propel our economy as a whole. They’re also playing important roles in filling workforce shortages.
Our competitive industries such as construction, tech, and agriculture need to rely on this pipeline. If we want to create more jobs and continue to compete globally, we need to welcome this talented pool of individuals and not turn them away.
The bottom line is this: Taking hard-working immigrants out of our economy and failing to address a solution for Dreamers would negatively impact our region’s economy, with consequences for everyone in the Kansas City region.
We cannot close the door on a group of people who have helped sustain and grow our economy. Through their contributions, they have earned their status as examples of the American Dream just as much as any of us.
The Chamber has already called on our congressional representatives to take action. We hope you’ll join us.
Joe Reardon is president and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.