Immigration has become a hot issue on a local, state, and national level. But Natalia Martinez-Kalina thinks the conversation, largely focused on undocumented residents and nationalistic tendencies, is missing robust economic insight. So she founded Immigrant Powered, a grassroots campaign launched earlier this month that uses a window decal to encourage community dialogue.
Martinez-Kalina says a lack of knowledge contributes to the heated debates about immigration.
"There’s so much data at the national level around the impact and the role immigrants have on our economy today. When you're looking at billion-dollar companies, founders of tech companies, research, there's data around that," she says. "If you're looking at industry verticals that notoriously and continuously have labor shortages – i.e., construction, farm and agriculture, hospitality – a really large percentage of that labor force is held by immigrants."
She's not wrong. Studies show immigrant business owners make significant contributions to business income. On a regional level, Florida sits in the top four of states with the largest share of immigrant business owners, according to a study published in April by the National Bureau of Economic Research. That trend continues across the country. A report by the Small Business Administration found that immigrants generated $67 billion of the $577 billion in U.S. business income in 2000. The National Academy of Sciences finds, “Immigration supplies workers, which increases GDP [gross domestic product] and has helped the United States avoid the fate of stagnant economies created by purely demographic forces – in particular, an aging workforce.”
Enter Immigrant Powered; a Miami-based grassroots initiative in direct collaboration with FWD.Us, IMPAC Fund and the Florida Immigrant Coalition. The project asks businesses to identify as immigrant-connected in myriad ways. The point, Martinez-Kalina says, is broad community inclusion: "If you're immigrant-founded? Great. You’re immigrant-run? Great. You’re immigrant-staffed? Great. You’re not an immigrant but your clients are immigrants so you feel really empowered by them? Excellent.
The program has a simple manifesto: empowering and educating everyone. Martinez-Kalina breaks down the campaign purpose into four areas: "The first one is [to] have businesses feel empowered and identified with this concept. How do we get people to feel empowered by that designation? The second one is, how do we lead to interesting conversations? The third is [that] there’s so much rich data
Martinez-Kalina got the idea to represent the movement with a window decal while standing in a museum in Barcelona. She had heard of "Addiopizzo" decals, the logo of an anti-Mafia organization, in Palermo, Italy. Framed on storefront windows, an Addiopizzo sign designated a shop owner who refused to pay the "Pizzo," a long-standing illegal mob tax. The show of solidarity created a domino effect with other local businesses who observed their neighbors standing up to the Mafia's extortion. While the Immigrant Powered decal and Addiopizzo have disparate intentions, the initiatives have the consumer angle in common.
Right now, the Immigrant Powered campaign is in its early stages. Organizers are planning a storytelling-centric hard launch for January to recruit businesses of all sizes throughout the state. You may already be seeing the blue, white, and orange decal popping up in Miami-Dade, where a trickle of companies are getting involved. Founder Martinez-Kalina hasn't landed on a larger-scale "end goal" for this awareness venture yet, but she hopes it will gain traction in Florida and eventually expand to other states.
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Ultimately, Martinez-Kalina wants to create a network of businesses that her organization will update regularly on local, statewide, and congressional debates related to immigration policy. Her focus is on being a resource where members can access hard facts. She insists her campaign will not suggest policy or advocacy positions for those in the network.
"It's to add an element of nuance, so hopefully people can engage with more pieces of this complicated conversation from a place of information, not just knee-jerk reactions or presupposed opinions."
To Martinez-Kalina, who has immigrated multiple times, identifying as an immigrant should not exclude an identity as an American.
"What is more patriotic than starting a business, working, supporting your families, contributing to your communities? And so when I think of immigrant contributions to the economy I think of it as something that is deeply American."