JOLIET – U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was in Joliet a day ahead of the election to meet with Latino business owners to talk about immigration issues.
On Monday, Durbin and U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, met with more than a dozen business leaders at the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry to hear their concerns about issues affecting their community.
Foster represents the 11th District, which includes all or parts of Bolingbrook, Joliet, New Lenox and Shorewood, among other areas.
Both Durbin and Foster are running unopposed in the Democratic primary on Tuesday. Both have been proponents of immigration reform, including granting citizenship to undocumented immigrants.
The local business owners talked about struggling small businesses run by minorities and voiced concerns about getting recognition from politicians.
The Latino community needs its members to be strong voices for change, said Martha Suarez, secretary of ALIANZA Business Alliance, a Joliet-based association for Latino business owners.
“I am relentless when I say things are not status quo,” she said. “It’s no longer about being quiet. … God gave me this gift and I will use it and keep using it.”
She asked Durbin what the next steps for the community could be. Durbin said they need to get every person who is eligible to register to vote. Many who are eligible don’t register, he said.
“If you got real voters who care about real issues, you get real results,” he said.
One business owner, Scottie Munoz, who runs Taquerias Atotonilco in Joliet, talked about being raised by parents who immigrated from Mexico and became a “pillar of the community.” He said he thinks the Latino community has left its mark on the U.S.
“We stimulate the economy – legal or not legal – we stimulate the economy,” he said. “Nobody is taking jobs. They’re doing a lot of the jobs nobody wants to do.”
Foster said a significant number of entrepreneurs are immigrants.
He said it’s estimated the passage of comprehensive immigration reform could create 3 million new homeowners.
“These are simply families that have money for the down payment but they are not willing to make the leap into homeownership, because one or more of their family members does not have legal status,” he said.
Some of the leaders stressed the need for Latino youths to complete high school and college.
Durbin said change in the community can begin at home with family values that push youths toward better lives than their parents.
“That’s what I heard growing up from my immigrant mom, and I bet a lot of you heard it too,” he said.
After the meeting, Munoz said he was motivated to work for change.
“You should really speak out and do it in a smart way on how to get other people involved. … It’s not just one person, you have to have community support,” he said.
The Republicans do have a contested race in Tuesday’s primary for the 11th Congressional District.
Naperville businessman Bert Miller, conservative talk show host Ian Bayne of Aurora, Grundy County Board member Chris Balkema and state Rep. Darlene Senger, R-Naperville, are running for their party’s nomination.