How Immigrants are Key to Illinois' Thriving Economy

Posted by Lucas Waldron on 01/16/2015

This week, caught up with Rebecca Shi, Executive Director of the Illinois Business and Immigration Coalition, to talk about the major political issues Illinois is tackling in 2015, her work fighting for driver’s licenses for the undocumented community, and the bipartisan movement in Illinois for impactful immigration reform.

Read on to learn more about Rebecca’s insider perspective on government transparency. Make sure to join your local chapter’s next #ThinkFWD panel discussion event to participate in discussions like these. What are your goals for the future of Cook County? How do you hope the immigrant community will help achieve these goals?

Shi: For us at the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, one of our main goals is to make sure our economy continues to grow in Cook County and throughout the state. We are one of the largest producers in the country in terms of agriculture, specifically vegetables. We’re striving to create an environment that incentivizes business and allows these farms to thrive. 72% of farmworkers in Illinois are immigrants, and many are undocumented, so these issues go hand-in-hand. At the state level, we passed legislation to allow undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses. This means that when an undocumented person is driving to work, or taking their kids to school, they don’t have to worry about being pulled over for a broken tail light and deported.


In Illinois, 40% of venture-backed businesses are started by immigrants and 90% of patents from University of Illinois are earned by immigrants. These entrepreneurs are driving growth in our state. For Cook County to thrive, these immigrants and their businesses have to thrive. They need to know they have a future here and have the security to know they can stay here. Additionally, 40% of workers in our hospitality industry are immigrants and many are undocumented. These people work hard and they do jobs that a lot of other people won’t do. So, immigrants are contributing to our economic growth on all levels. What are some of the ways you and Illinois Business Immigration Coalition have helped to highlight the stories of individual immigrants’ experiences building their companies or struggling to deal with our broken and outdated immigration system?

Shi: Highlighting storieshas been the center of our advocacy work. There’s no better voice to advocate for immigration reform than the people who are actually affected by it. At the local level we do quarterly meetings and round tables with our Members of Congress. At each of these meetings we have local, successful immigrant entrepreneurs or business owners from their districts share their stories with their representatives. We had a fly-in last year with immigrant farm workers from Illinois in D.C. and they actually brought their produce to show that the agriculture industry is truly backed by immigrants. We also try to do a lot of work in our local news markets – we try incorporate big brands and companies that people recognize into our campaigns to show people who aren’t familiar with this issue how much it affects our state. In 2013, you fought for drivers licenses for the undocumented community, and now over 250,000 people in Illinois are eligible for a license. What is the impact of getting a drivers license for undocumented people?

Shi: The impact is huge. We know that in the last nine years the level of deportation has really rapidly increased. We worked with the Department of Homeland Security and found that the increase in deportations had a disproportionate impact on children. In fact, 56,108 children were left without parents or guardians due to deportation in Illinois between 2007 and 2013. The most common way that this happened was through a traffic violation, for example if someone is pulled over with a broken tail light on the way to work and is then found to be undocumented. We started this campaign because we want to stop the destruction of families. As we started, we talked to business associations like the Illinois Chamber and Illinois Farm Bureau. We found that employers were very supportive of their immigrant employees and were directly impacted by these deportations because they saw the impact on their businesses, so we actually had several conservative voices supporting this.


We want people to feel safe driving their kids to school and driving to and from work. I remember I spoke to one mother and she told me that for the first time she was able to drive her family on a vacation to a water park outside of Chicago. For over a decade her family had never taken a vacation because she was too afraid to drive. What can be done to empower immigrants and the children of immigrants to become more engaged in the political process?

Shi: The most important thing is voter turnout, which is especially low in immigrant communities. Turnout during midterm elections is strikingly lower than during presidential elections, but incredibly important state and local issues are on the ballot in midterm years. So, we need these community to turn out. There’s also data that indicates that naturalized citizens are much more engaged in the political process. There are systematic barriers that block people from being able to naturalize, and we need to reduce those barriers. I think both Democrats and Republicans can do a better job of connecting how the issues they care about can impact the immigrant community. In 2012, we were able to register over 20,000 new voters in 20 districts because the driver’s license legislation directly affected people in their communities. For many immigrant voters, they had family members who were undocumented and so this issue became personal. Illinois is an epicenter for immigrant businesses. How has the business community and the undocumented community in Illinois come together to work on policy issues?

Shi: Many business leaders themselves are immigrants or have personal connections to people who are undocumented. For example, many energy and utility companies here in Illinois have invested in many charter schools and many of the students at these schools are undocumented or come from immigrant communities. So, the people who work at these companies see the need for highly skilled engineers in their day jobs and also volunteer and invest in these schools where they meet students who have had family members deported. These personal connections are invaluable and getting well-known business leaders to speak out on behalf of immigration issues – beyond just H-1B visas – has helped to steer our coalition.

Our next #ThinkFWD needs your perspective! RSVP now to reserve your seat at your nearest chapter’s upcoming events.

Yesterday's House Vote: Terribly Misguided

Posted by Todd Schulte on 01/15/2015


We wanted to provide you with an overview of the series of votes yesterday surrounding efforts to repeal the President’s executive immigration actions.

Yesterday’s show vote from the House Republican Conference holds up critical funding for the Department of Homeland Security over the right to restart deportations of DREAMers, and wastes valuable time on a bill that House GOP members know has zero chance of becoming law.

A number of amendments to the funding bill would roll back important and necessary protections for DREAMers, the parents of kids who are U.S. citizens and permanent residents, talented students who go to school in the U.S. and want to stay here to grow their companies and create American jobs, and other undocumented immigrants who have been living here and already contributing to our communities and our economy for years.

In summary – were this passed into law, these millions of people would be placed at risk of deportation – ripping apart millions of families, stifling our economy, and hurting our country. We are encouraged that 26 Republicans broke with their party in opposition of a particularly harmful amendment. And we’re thankful to the 10 Republicans and nearly every Democratic member who voted against the entire measure.

The House floor votes included five particularly harmful amendments that won’t accomplish the meaningful immigration reform that Americans across the political spectrum overwhelmingly support. With the help of our friends at Alliance for Citizenship, here are the key points on each amendment:

The Aderholt/Mulvaney/Barletta Amendment as passed would prohibit the use of fees collected by USCIS to implement DAPA or DACA, and is specifically designed to prevent the implementation of deferred action programs. The only executive action this amendment leaves in place pertains to pay increases and workforce realignment for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

The Blackburn Amendment would put at risk of deportation hundreds of thousands of DREAMers who already came forward in good faith, passed background checks, and received temporary DACA protection allowing them to apply for jobs, schools, and driver’s licenses. The Blackburn Amendment also prohibits the use of funds to consider new DACA applications, preventing the expansion of the DACA program to other young people who might not qualify under the program’s rules right now.  

The DeSantis/Roby Amendment ignores existing policies which prioritize criminals convicted of certain sex offenses and domestic violence as the highest targets for law enforcement. These individuals are already excluded from deferred action under DAPA and DACA. The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and more than a dozen sheriffs and police chiefs oppose the DeSantis/Roby Amendment because it would also endanger victims of domestic violence by overturning a key DHS policy requiring further investigation into whether a person convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense was actually the victim of that crime.

The Salmon/Thompson Amendment incorrectly suggests that employers may be incentivized to give hiring preference to individuals who qualify for deferred action because they are not eligible for premium subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In fact, all full-time employees, regardless of immigration status, are counted as an “employee” in determining whether and how much an employer owes in penalties for failure to meet the health care coverage obligation under the ACA.

The Schock Amendment is based on the false assumption that wait times for some legal immigration categories will increase due to the implementation of DAPA, despite USCIS having the authority to hire new adjudicators to process these applications. Deferred action applications are not expected to slow the processing of legal immigration petitions. Instead of preventing delays, this amendment would interfere with many other applications filed by persons in unlawful status, including asylum applications, U visa and T visa applications by victims of serious crimes and sex trafficking, and green card applications by the spouses of U.S. citizens and victims of domestic violence entitled to relief under the Violence Against Women Act.

On the heels of this vote, it’s more important than ever to remind members of Congress that what we need is real immigration reform – not politically-motivated show votes that waste time that could be spent working toward real and meaningful legislative solutions. We strongly encourage House Republicans to stop their terribly misguided efforts to overturn DACA and instead pursue serious legislation in good faith that will provide a permanent legislative solution to our country’s broken immigration system.


Immigration Innovation (I-Squared) Act of 2015 is a Strong, Bipartisan Effort to Create American Jobs

Posted by Todd Schulte on 01/13/2015

Today, we’re glad to see a strong bipartisan effort in the U.S. Senate to introduce a commonsense high-skilled immigration bill that would make it easier for the best and the brightest STEM students who’ve gone to school here to contribute more fully to our communities and our economy. We are a nation of immigrants, but we no longer have a system of laws that make sense for our economy and for our families. The introduction of this bill is a key step to ensure that we can continue to lead the world in innovation: simply put, our nation is not living up to its potential, and we are missing out on economic growth and the creation of American jobs until we make it easier for the best and brightest to stay here and contribute.

This is not the comprehensive solution to fixing our broken immigration system that we at are fighting for every day, but its introduction is an important step in the right direction, and we applaud the Senators supporting this bill on both sides of the aisle for seeking a legislative path forward.

8 Women-in-Tech Organizations You Need to Know

Posted by Viola Olayinka on 01/08/2015

It’s no secret that women are seriously underrepresented in the tech industry. In 2014, the White House estimated that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million jobs in programming and computing fields, yet women make up only a small percentage of the tech workforce and computer science programs across the country. In fact, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, women make up only 26% of the computing industry – and only 10% of those women are African American, Asian-American, or Latina.


Organizations such as Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners, Women 2.0, The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and CODE2040, all operate with the mission of leveling the playing field and  closing the inequality gap by fostering clear pipelines into the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce for underrepresented groups. Here are a few more notable organizations working hard to combat gender inequality in tech and lift up female tech leaders and role models.

 shestarteditlogo1.pngShe Started It

She Started It is a documentary focused on female tech founders in the U.S. and in Europe. The film follows the lives of inspirational tech entrepreneurs and aims to provide positive role models in the tech industry for young girls. Watch the inspirational trailer and learn more about the project here.


Girls Who Code

Girls Who Code works to inspire, educate, and equip high school junior and senior girls to consider careers in the technology and engineering sectors. The Girls Who Code program hosts an annual seven week summer immersion course in various location across the United States. In the summer program students learn robotics, web design, mobile development, and are connected with female tech entrepreneurs and leaders through mentorship. Check out the amazing program and learn more from the program’s alumni.

Hackbright_Academy_logo copy.pngHackbright Academy

Hackbright Academy is a 10-week software development training program exclusively for women. Their office is located in the heart of San Francisco, California. The organization’s main goal is to connect women from non-traditional science backgrounds and train them to become software engineers. Learn more about the amazing organization and it’s latest cohort on their website.

wogrammers-logo (1).pngWogrammer

Wogrammer highlights amazing women in computer science and engineering fields. The organization regularly utilizes social media to feature inspiring women in tech and share their personal journeys navigating the computer science industry. With their work, Wogrammer aims to dispel stereotypes through storytelling. Read more about inspirational women in tech careers.

86323cc2a34ce2314d2c8100c0bd9e20_400x400.jpegWomen Who Code

Women Who Code is a group dedicated to inspiring women to excel in tech careers. Women Who Code provides training, mentorship, and networking through weekly meet ups and technical study groups in various computer programming languages. Together thousands of women are learning how to code in Python, Ruby, Javascript, as well as building apps for iOS, Android, and deep diving into the world of algorithms. Find out which cities and countries you can find a Women Who Code chapter!


Girl Develop It

Girl Develop It offers courses for women to learn web and software development. Girl Develop It provides affordable and accessible programs to women with through mentorship and hands-on instruction in local chapters throughout the nation. Their overall mission is to empower women of diverse backgrounds to learn how to develop software. Learn more about the cities they’re currently impacting.

logo.pngBlack Girls Code

Black Girls Code was launched to provide pre-teen girls of color opportunities to learn technical skills and computer programming early on in their lives. The organization was created after its founder, Kimberly Bryant, realized the scarcity of African-American women in science, technology, engineering, and math professions. Bryant was inspired to make a change and create an impact in early education, especially after seeing the impact in her young daughter’s computing class. Find out more about the group’s goals and mission.

logo (2).pngPYLadies

PYLadies is a group of female developers who specialize in the Python computer programing language. The organization hosts peer-to-peer learning and mentoring sessions through multiple chapters around the world. Attendees range from newbies with little background in coding to expert-level programmers. Check out the organization here.


Get involved! Join us at the San Francisco ThinkFWD panel discussion on Jan. 15: What’s the Hold Up? Accelerating Opportunity for Women in Tech. Our expert panel will dissect the barriers to opportunity for women in tech and propose solutions for a more diverse workforce.