CHICAGO — Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday touted immigration reform as an economic gold mine for the city, saying that once the fear of deportation is lifted, the new citizens will invest fully in the community through home ownership and small business creation.
Appearing on a panel in Washington, D.C., Emanuel cited Little Village and Von Steuben High School as indicators of the future of the city.
Emanuel, participating on a panel sponsored by Atlantic magazine and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said nearly 50 percent of new business license applications in Chicago are from immigrants.
“You cannot be pro-small business and be anti-immigrant. The two of them go hand in hand,” Emanuel said.
The mayor said that after Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile stretch, the 26th Street portion of the Hispanic Little Village neighborhood produces the city’s highest sales tax revenue.
“It pulls people literally from all over the Midwest. On the weekend, you cannot find parking near or around 26th Street,” Emanuel said.
“From as far as Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Columbus, Ohio, people come in to get things they cannot get in their respective communities that are reflective of their home country,” he said.
At Von Steuben High School, 5039 N. Kimball Ave., students represent 126 nationalities, he said.
“That’s a gold mine for us and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Emanuel said.
Emanuel said that if Chicago was a city in Mexico, given the number of people living here with ties to Mexico, it would be that nation’s sixth largest city.
Freed from the threat of deportation, immigrants here lacking citizenship would buy homes and open businesses, expanding the tax base to help pay for schools, police, libraries and government pension obligations, he said.
“It’s a game changer for the city,” Emanuel said of immigration reform.
“There is nothing like the dedication of a child of an immigrant. They know they’re here and they’re lucky and this better not get screwed up or your parents are going to kill you,” he said.
Asked about arguments that immigrants depress wages, Emanuel maintained that they create more economic activity, leading to more jobs.
He also chastised Republicans, saying that the party has allowed “the screamers” on the right “to hijack the party” to a point where it cannot win a presidential election in a country with changing demographics.
For Chicago and the nation, he said, immigration “is a huge opportunity” economically.
The mayor also touted what he called “citizenship corners” — an initiative that will provide advice at 12 Chicago libraries to those seeking citizenship.
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