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Support Immigrants, Fight the Ban: Buy Local!

February 15, 2017 • 8 min read
Ro Prakash

Ro Prakash

Co-founder

The first week of February, we cringed at the news of the immigration ban issued by Trump’s White House, holding our breath for what would follow. Thankfully, on February 9, a panel of judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a U.S. District Judge’s injunction against the ban. But, with no word from the Justice Department and just a “SEE YOU IN COURT” tweet from Trump, we can’t relax yet.

Hopefully, each of us did something to demonstrate our solidarity with the targets of the ban, which included visa holders who currently reside in the country and refugees, among others. Many of us likely didn’t realize, however, that we could do simple things that would actually have an immediate impact on those most affected by the White House’s latest affront.

Now that the surge of protests has subsided, it’s more important than ever that we continue to support the members our communities targeted by the ban, strengthening our neighborhoods. And it doesn’t take a million dollar donation to the ACLU; think local.

Support those in your community who would be affected by the ban, those who may be feeling unwelcome or unsafe, directly and immediately. Walk down the street and buy local at your neighborhood bodega rather than a big box store. Head out to dinner instead of having a tech company deliver food. Support local businesses and show your compassion locally. Resist through what you can do in your community.

I work for many of those affected by the ban, small and local immigrant business owners, who constitute 28 percent of the small businesses that are the backbone of the American economy. And I don’t just work to support these people; I am the product of my parents’ decision to immigrate to this country and start a small business.

Whatever platitudes Trump and his administration offer about their desire to help small businesses, he has failed these American business owners — 900,000 of them, who contributed $775 billion to the economy in 2010 alone, including my mother and father. After years of hard work making their communities better places for everyone, these business owners have been repudiated by their government. Many of these immigrant business owners are people whose love of America, whose patriotism, is a result of having emigrated to the U.S. from places with significantly less opportunity or even places where their very lives were in danger.

With immigrants from nearly 80 countries around the world, India to Japan, Ethiopia to Romania, Ghana to Barbados, the United States is truly diverse. This shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us educated in the United States, as we’ve described our home as a “melting pot” since the eponymous 1908 play. And whether we think of the U.S. as a melting pot or mosaic, that diversity of origins is indelibly part of the soul of this country and what makes it unique.

Trump’s hypocrisy in insisting that he is making things easier for small businesses (and the economy) while telling 28 percent of them that they aren’t wanted here is both bigoted and extraordinarily short-sighted. First-generation immigrants are now twice as likely as native-born Americans to start a business and create jobs.

Immigrants like my parents and my co-founder’s parents are part the fabric of the U.S. population, as well our economy. My parents came to the United States searching for the best possible place to build their lives. Growing up, I watched as they created their business, the Concord Children’s Clinic in North Carolina. Over 30 years, my parents created approximately 50 jobs, while caring for thousands of children.

If you look even one generation further (to people like me), the number of businesses founded and jobs created increases exponentially. The might of the local business economy, often touted as the backbone of the U.S. economy, is largely driven by immigrants and the local communities who support them, buy locally, and use their services.

President Trump’s executive order banning refugees, certain immigrants, visa holders, and even green card holders directly contradicts the hope from which the United States evolved and the strength it has developed. But right now, what we hear from our community is fear, not hope. The ban and the rhetoric it springs from are a betrayal of the very idea of the United States.

So, I cheer for Starbucks and its commitment to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years and for Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani and Kurdish immigrant, who increased his advocacy of refugees before January 20. I applaud those who broke their Uber habit, convincing CEO Travis Kalanick to resign from Trump’s economic advisory board.

Those moves by big businesses and global corporations matter. They are, indeed, essential. But they are also, to some degree, what we expect of good corporate citizens.

All props to those with a megaphone who speak out against Trump’s cruel and un-American policies. But, next time you need that caffeine bump, I encourage you to spend your money at a locally-owned coffee shop. If you’re going out to eat, look for signs that identify establishments as Sanctuary Restaurants, a new partnership between Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and Presente.org. Participating restaurants “offer support and resources to workers, restaurants, and consumers” to keep workers, particularly immigrants and refugees, safe.

Each of us can use our money in apparently mundane ways that directly affect immigrant businesses: buy local to strengthen your community, and give your support in person to those who need it.

My company’s mission is to empower local businesses by supporting one another, and diversity is at the core of our mission. We stand firmly with our fellow businesses. I ask you to now do the same.

To learn how the ban would have affected local entrepreneurs, we are currently collecting a list of small businesses who stand against this and other measures like it that threaten our communities. Please reach out to me at partners@townsquared.com if you want to know more.


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