Bal­anc­ing im­mi­gra­tion and econ­omy

DACA re­cip­i­ents spend bil­lions in US. What hap­pens if its end­ing is up­held?

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - BUSINESS - By Ab­del Jimenez

David Ro­driguez was born in Mex­ico but has cre­ated a life in Chicago, where he is rais­ing a fam­ily and run­ning a busi­ness. A case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court could up­end his Amer­i­can Dream.

Ro­driguez, 30, co-owns Whisk, a restau­rant in Chicago’s Ukrainian Vil­lage neigh­bor­hood, with his brother Ri­cardo, 35. The Ro­driguez broth­ers are among more than 33,000 Chicago-area in­di­vid­u­als en­rolled in De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals, or DACA, a pro­gram that shields from de­por­ta­tion cer­tain im­mi­grants brought to the coun­try as chil­dren.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has taken a hard-line stance on im­mi­gra­tion and tried to phase out DACA two years ago.

Now it’s up to the Supreme Court to de­cide the fate of thou­sands of “Dream­ers,” the name of­ten used for DACA re­cip­i­ents. The court heard oral ar­gu­ments Tues­day on whether the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s rea­son for can­celling the pro­gram is legally jus­ti­fied. The jus­tices seemed split along po­lit­i­cal lines, with the ma­jor­ity of con­ser­va­tive ju­rists hint­ing they would rule in fa­vor of the pres­i­dent.

Ex­perts say end­ing DACA could put thou­sands of im­mi­grants, many of whom have bought homes, earned col­lege de­grees or formed their own busi­nesses, at risk of de­por­ta­tion and deal a blow to the econ­omy.

David Ro­driguez, of Albany Park, said he is con­cerned that los­ing his DACA protection would mean he’d have to leave the coun­try and shut down his restau­rant.

For most of his child­hood, Ro­driguez said his ca­reer as­pi­ra­tions were lim­ited. Ro­driguez dreamed of be­ing a po­lice officer — some­thing that seemed im­pos­si­ble with­out proper im­mi­gra­tion doc­u­ments. His par­ents brought him to the U.S. from Mex­ico City when he was 2 years old, im­mi­grat­ing with­out le­gal per­mis­sion.

“My par­ents would al­ways tell

us that we weren’t born here, and you have to keep hush-hush,” Ro­driguez said of his fam­ily’s im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus. “Things like that re­ally dis­cour­aged me from even pur­su­ing some type of higher ed­u­ca­tion.”

Ro­driguez said DACA changed his life. The pro­gram has not only helped him, but Ro­driguez also said he’s been able to make an economic im­pact through tax con­tri­bu­tions and em­ploy­ment. He said he em­ploys about 15 work­ers, many of whom are par­ents who need a job to pro­vide for their fam­i­lies.

“Now I’ve found my pas­sion in the kitchen,” Ro­driguez said. “What a lot of peo­ple don’t un­der­stand is that we pay a whole lot of money in taxes.”

In or­der to keep the restau­rant’s doors open, Ro­driguez said he pays about $1,000 ev­ery year to re­new his busi­ness li­cense, plus ad­di­tional taxes the city re­quires. Ro­driguez said his restau­rant’s im­pact seems huge and he can’t imag­ine the con­tri­bu­tion big­ger es­tab­lish­ments owned by DACA in­di­vid­u­als have in Chicago.

Since its in­cep­tion, the pro­gram has helped nearly 800,000 in­di­vid­u­als who were brought to the coun­try il­le­gally as chil­dren.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2019 anal­y­sis by the left-lean­ing Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, a Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based think tank, about 6% of DACA re­cip­i­ents are busi­ness own­ers. Re­cip­i­ents also fill roles in a wide range of oc­cu­pa­tions, in­clud­ing food ser­vice, ed­u­ca­tion and health care, the study found.

Ni­cole Sva­jlenka, an im­mi­gra­tion se­nior pol­icy an­a­lyst for the or­ga­ni­za­tion who worked on the study, said im­mi­grants are en­tre­pre­neur­ial by na­ture and more likely to start their own com­pa­nies.

Lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties “rely on im­mi­grant job creators for jobs. We found that … DACA busi­ness own­ers em­ploy on av­er­age about four to five work­ers,” Sva­jlenka said.

Em­ploy­ers are also con­cerned about how end­ing DACA would af­fect their work­force. A group of more than 140 busi­nesses and trade as­so­ci­a­tions filed a friend-of-the-court brief Oct. 3 in fa­vor of pro­tect­ing the pro­gram. Three Chicago-based firms joined the brief, in­clud­ing en­ergy com­pany Ex­elon Corp., SpotHero, an on­line park­ing reser­va­tion ser­vice com­pany, and Civis Anal­ty­ics, a data sci­ence com­pany.

Richard Lee, gen­eral coun­sel for Civis An­a­lyt­ics, said his firm’s de­ci­sion to be part of the brief was rooted in the com­pany’s cul­ture that diversity, eq­uity and in­clu­sion ap­ply both at work and in so­ci­ety.

“Im­mi­grants make up a huge part of the tech in­dus­try,” Lee said. “It was im­por­tant to say where we stand on cer­tain is­sues.”

The U.S. econ­omy could take a hit, los­ing $460.3 bil­lion in na­tional gross do­mes­tic prod­uct over the next decade and col­lect­ing $90 bil­lion less in tax rev­enue dur­ing the same pe­riod, the group of busi­nesses said in its brief.

In Illi­nois, DACA re­cip­i­ents con­trib­ute about $202 mil­lion an­nu­ally in state and lo­cal taxes, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress.

And the economic im­pact goes be­yond busi­ness own­ers.

“We are just like ev­ery­one else. A lot of us buy houses and cars,” said Jose Quiroz, a 24-year-old Pala­tine res­i­dent and DACA re­cip­i­ent. “It would def­i­nitely have an im­pact to the econ­omy if it was taken away.”

Quiroz was brought by his par­ents from Mex­ico City when he was 4 years old.

To­day Quiroz man­ages Dream City Team, a real es­tate firm owned by Di­a­mond Homes Realty, that em­ploys two other work­ers.

He said he has helped 30 DACA re­cip­i­ents achieve the Amer­i­can Dream of be­com­ing home­own­ers. But Quiroz also said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s crack­down on le­gal and il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion has damp­ened in­ter­est in home­own­er­ship among DACA re­cip­i­ents, who are now less in­ter­ested in tak­ing on debt given the un­cer­tainty cloud­ing the pro­gram’s fu­ture.

“Two years ago about 50% of my clients had DACA. Now it’s about 25%. A lot of them were more in­ter­ested in buy­ing houses back then,” Quiroz said.

Both po­lit­i­cal par­ties and the pres­i­dent have ex­pressed sym­pa­thy for DACA re­cip­i­ents, but the roots of the pro­gram are con­tro­ver­sial. Op­po­nents say it was un­con­sti­tu­tional for then-Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to es­tab­lish the pro­gram through an ex­ec­u­tive or­der.

David Bier, an im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy an­a­lyst at the Cato In­sti­tute, a lib­er­tar­ian think tank, said DACA is a good pol­icy, but it’s Congress’ job to cre­ate a so­lu­tion, not the pres­i­dent’s.

“The pres­i­dent has dis­cre­tion to end the pro­gram,” Bier said. “DACA is good pol­icy re­gard­less of what the pres­i­dent does, but it’s a sep­a­rate ques­tion about whether the pres­i­dent can take it away.”

The Cato In­sti­tute filed a brief in sup­port of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Some other groups, like the Ea­gle Fo­rum, an Al­ton, Illi­nois-based con­ser­va­tive group started by Phyl­lis Sch­lafly, have called for DACA’s ter­mi­na­tion. The or­ga­ni­za­tion filed a brief in De­cem­ber last year op­pos­ing the pro­gram.

Anne Cori, Ea­gle Fo­rum’s

chair­man, said the group has op­posed DACA since it was first in­tro­duced.

“We be­lieve il­le­gal im­mi­grants should not be made le­gal,” Cori said. “Age is ir­rel­e­vant … It’s im­por­tant for peo­ple to fol­low the law.”

Im­mi­grant ad­vo­cacy groups say they are pre­pared to roll out re­sources in case the court rules against DACA re­cip­i­ents.

“We don’t know ex­actly what a rul­ing from the court would mean,” said Fred Tsao, se­nior pol­icy coun­cil for the Illi­nois Coali­tion for Im­mi­grant and Refugee Rights. “If a busi­ness is in­cor­po­rated, it could sur­vive the loss of the im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus of its busi­ness owner.”

Tsao said his group has been pre­par­ing in­for­ma­tional re­sources, in­clud­ing on­line pre­sen­ta­tions and re­fer­rals to le­gal ser­vice providers, in case the court rules against DACA. One of the ser­vices helps DACA busi­ness own­ers trans­fer own­er­ship to a U.S. ci­ti­zen to run the com­pany on their be­half.

Un­der fed­eral law, any­one can start a busi­ness re­gard­less of their im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus, said Iliana Perez, di­rec­tor of re­search and en­trepreneur­ship for Im­mi­grants Ris­ing, a San Fran­cisco-based ad­vo­cacy group. The prob­lem comes when a busi­ness owner faces de­por­ta­tion and he or she didn’t give a trusted friend or fam­ily mem­ber the le­gal right to their com­pany, Perez said.

“I’ve been prac­tic­ing law for over 12 years. They (DACA re­cip­i­ents) need Congress to pass a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion,” said Fiona McEn­tee, an im­mi­gra­tion at­tor­ney and man­ag­ing part­ner for McEn­tee Law Group in Chicago.

McEn­tee, who works on DACA cases, said that stakes are high if re­cip­i­ents lose their DACA protection.

Ro­driguez, like many other DACA re­cip­i­ents, is wait­ing for Congress to pro­pose leg­is­la­tion that would lead to a path­way to cit­i­zen­ship. But so far law­mak­ers have come up short on agree­ing to a so­lu­tion that works for both par­ties.

“I’m a Chicago city boy,” Ro­driguez said. “I love this coun­try, and I get that peo­ple come to this coun­try and don’t con­trib­ute any­thing, but I’m one of many that does. We pay taxes to the city and we are busi­ness own­ers. We’re ac­tu­ally do­ing good things for this city.”


David Ro­driguez, owner of Whisk, a restau­rant in the Ukrainian Vil­lage neigh­bor­hood, is a DACA re­cip­i­ent who em­ploys about 15 work­ers.


Jose Quiroz, a DACA re­cip­i­ent, is a grad­u­ate of Pala­tine High School and real es­tate agent who man­ages the Dream City Team of Di­a­mond Homes Realty.

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