Arizona immigration law is bad for small business and the economy

I own and operate a flea market in Apopka, Florida, just outside Orlando. My mother started our business in the early 1970s, and I grew up in the business. We’re a real family business.

Without the contributions of immigrants, it’s safe to say my flea market and a lot of the vendors we host would be out of business in no time.

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For one thing, a lot of the vendors who set up shop at my flea market are immigrants. They come from all over, from countries like Mexico, Haiti and the Philippines. They run businesses that offer cell phone accessories, clothes, hats, CDs and many other items. They’ve started their own family businesses to provide for their families and to get ahead in life.

On top of that, a lot of the customers who shop at my flea market are immigrants, too. It’s probably 30 percent of the crowd on any given day. Cut any small business’s customer base by 30 percent and I can tell you where it’s going: out of business.

Both as customers and as small business owners, immigrants are an economic engine. That’s true not just in my flea market, and not just in Apopka, but in local communities and local economies across America. Laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 threaten all of that. Here’s how.

SB 1070 legalizes discrimination, it legalizes intimidation, and it legalizes harassment of immigrants and people of color. It is a license for racial profiling, and a recipe for sowing fear in the community. That’s not going to be good for small businesses, our workers, or our customer base.

Small businesses thrive in local communities where everyone is welcome and everyone participates in building a vibrant local economy. SB 1070, its copycat bills in states like Alabama, and proposals like mandatory E-Verify here in Florida create a climate of fear that erodes the basic trust that is the foundation of small business success.

The supporters of SB 1070 say it’s not about discrimination. That’s like saying success in business is not about building trust. Good luck making that case. Discrimination is exactly what this is about, and discrimination is not only bad for business, it’s unconstitutional.

Is our immigration system broken? Of course it is, and that’s bad for small businesses and bad for the country. But what we need is comprehensive immigration reform, not enforcement-only laws that are an invitation to racial profiling and a betrayal of our history and our values.

We can do better – for our businesses, our local economies, and the country. Comprehensive immigration reform, including a realistic path to citizenship, could realign our immigration system with the needs of small businesses and add $1.5 trillion to the economy over ten years. That’s the kind of policy small businesses and the country need now.

The Supreme Court should say no to legalizing discrimination and strike down Arizona’s anti-immigration law. It’s the right thing to do for small businesses and for the country.

Benjamin Markeson owns the Three Star Flea Market in Apopka, Florida. He is a founding member of the Community Business Association, a network of small business owners in the Orlando area working to advance policies that are good for small businesses and local communities.