Board member Ben Jung’s in Business Record

The immigration system is broke; let’s fix it

Friday, November 01, 2013 7:00 AM
 Ben Jung is the vice president of the Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit and owner of Ingersoll Wine & Spirits.

There is an American saying that goes something like this: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

What is clear to me is that the current immigration system is not working very well and needs to be fixed.

My father emigrated from South Korea to Iowa in the late 1960s. My mother joined dad soon thereafter, and they had me in 1970. I am a second-generation immigrant and small business owner from West Des Moines. Growing up in the United States to immigrant parents, I know the hardships many immigrants go through to gain citizenship in our country.

Our immigration laws currently work against immigrant entrepreneurs moving forward and growing the U.S. economy. According to one bipartisan study by the Partnership for a New American Economy, America’s immigrant population, while accounting for under 13 percent of the U.S. population in 2011, accounted for more than twice the number of its new businesses in the same year of the study.

That same study also found that immigrants are at least 50 percent more likely to start a business than are native-born Americans.

I can attest that this data resonates with what is happening in Iowa now. Since 2008, the Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit (IES), co-founded by Ying Sa of Community CPA and Carlos Rios of the Immigrant Rights Network, has resulted in more than 500 new companies being formed in our state.

This is a number that continues to grow.

The annual event held in Des Moines and hosted by IES attracts more than 450 participants representing 46 countries.

In a nutshell, the event is about empowering individuals by providing hands-on workshops and networking opportunities with other successful immigrant entrepreneurs. So instead of adding to the welfare rolls, these Iowans become net contributors to not only our state, but also to the national economy.

Earlier this year, members of the U.S. Senate passed an immigration bill as amended by a vote of 68-32. It is now up to members of the House of Representatives to do the same and pass comprehensive immigration reform.

We need a system that allows immigrants to work and establish themselves in the United States as they pass certain qualifications to eventually gain citizenship. This can only be accomplished by providing a simpler pathway to citizenship compared with the system that exists now.

The current system does not provide the means to become successful business owners. On the contrary, it delays those individuals from laying the groundwork so they too can become job creators rather than recipients of government assistance.

Due to the current cap, we are losing potential talented, hard-working employees who simply want a fair chance at legally working in the United States.

The solution to a stronger economy is simple: The current immigration system must be repaired without delay. In order to create more jobs, be competitive and secure our future, this issue cannot be ignored. Another saying we have is to “kick the can down the road.”

This can has traveled about as far as it can go. I encourage all Iowa congressional members to support comprehensive immigration reform.

Ben Jung is the vice president of the Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit and owner of Ingersoll Wine & Spirits.