This week, leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean will descend on Los Angeles, California for the 2022 Summit of the Americas. The triennial conference brings regional stakeholders together to promote a discourse around economic growth and prosperity throughout the Americas. Although the months leading up to this year’s Summit have been marred by turmoil both in the United States and around Latin America, it’s crucial that the conference considers the U.S. Hispanic population in its regional outlook.

Currently, the U.S. Hispanic population accounts for approximately 63.5 million people, roughly 18% of the nation’s entire population and contributes an astounding $2.8 trillion to the economic vitality of our country. Hispanic Americans and immigrants from Latin America form an integral part of our labor force, filling workforce gaps in a multitude of industries such as agriculture, construction, and healthcare. In fact, during the COVID-19 global pandemic, Hispanics were the largest group of healthcare frontline workers, accounting for an estimated 2.2 million Hispanic healthcare professionals, almost one-third of which are immigrants. Moreover, Hispanic entrepreneurs are starting their own businesses at dramatically higher rates than the rest of the population. Latinas in particular start businesses at six times the rate of the national average.

However, Hispanic Americans and immigrants find themselves at a critical disadvantage when it comes to business expansion in international markets. The ability to go global with one’s enterprise is of utmost importance as nearly 95% of global consumers live outside of the U.S. and two-thirds of the world’s purchasing power is in foreign countries. During this year’s Summit, we’re asking international leaders to consider how, specifically, Hispanic businesses and entrepreneurs can benefit from international trade. We must prioritize policies and trade deals that increase exports, reduce tariffs, and facilitate imports. These barriers have historically prevented Hispanic entrepreneurs from accessing global markets and have significantly reduced their economic competitiveness. We demand sustainable solutions to these obstacles, especially in a region that is so intrinsically connected to the Latino community.

Along with the need to craft policies that integrate Hispanic businesses within the global economy, legal immigration must also be prioritized as an economic imperative. Immigrants comprise approximately 17.1% of the overall American workforce and provide necessary services in nearly every industry. With the expedition of H-1B visas, an improved guest-worker program, and legislation that allows DREAMers and TPS recipients to maintain their legal status to live, work, and learn in the United States, our workforce can continue to diversify and scale the American economy. This year’s Summit needs to consider the pathways to facilitating legal immigration through a comprehensive system. One that is fair and inclusive of all immigrants will bring economic benefits such as correcting labor shortages and encouraging the growth of small minority-owned businesses.

A thorough reform of America’s immigration system is not complete without the consideration of humane border security, an essential part of keeping trade circularity intact and our country protected. Due to geographical and topographical conditions, not to mention the $40 billion in cost, the approach of building and maintaining a wall on our southern border with Mexico is a primitive and ineffective way to keep the U.S. secure. Alternatively, policymakers need to invest in improving technology along the U.S.-Mexico border, invest in the modernization of land ports of entry, expedite the processing of asylum seekers, and provide federal agents with tools to identify actual threats to national security.

Beyond border security, we urge government leaders to adopt a strategy against the inhumane separation of immigrant families. The “zero-tolerance policy” violates basic human rights and American values. We implore the consideration of a new method that is both compassionate and economical, allowing hard-working immigrant families to pursue the American dream while also protecting against national threats.

Despite the current issues affecting all nations of this hemisphere, we want to ensure that U.S. Hispanic interests are considered. When transnational cooperation is fostered, the Summit of the Americas can function as an arena to examine the above propositions and work towards an inclusive international economic future for all Latinos/as living in the U.S. and Latin America. We must remain resilient as political leaders, diplomatic allies, and the business community to come together to create necessary solutions affecting the Americas. The USHCC remains committed to advocating for all Latinos/as in the Americas and maintaining that policy leaders need to create systemic changes to ensure our economic vibrancy.

About the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC)

The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) actively promotes the economic growth, development, and interests of more than five million Hispanic-owned businesses that, combined, contribute over $800 billion to the American economy every year. It advocates on behalf of its network of more than 260 local chambers and business associations nationwide, and also partners with more than 200 major American corporations. For more information, please visit ushcc.com.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned jointly by two officials with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Ramiro A. Cavazos (pictured left on main image accompanying the above guest column) is president and CEO of USHCC. C. LeRoy Cavazos-Reyna is Vice President of government and international affairs at USHCC. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the authors.

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