Ali Mohamed, left, and Kevin Simowitz at a Portland news conference today touting immigration reform.
The survey also indicated more than 60 percent of small business owners support a roadmap for future immigrants, who have yet to come to the U.S. For members of Maine's immigrant community who are also small business owners, this is welcome news.
"I'm happy," says Amina Osmanm, who runs the Tawakal store with her husband, Ali Mohamed, in downtown Portland.
Business is good, she says, and she wants to expand. "I try growing and growing, and hire employees and we'll be big business. I hope so."
For seven years, they've been selling food, mainly ethnic African food. Their customer base is largely drawn from Portland's immigrant community. Ali Mohamed says he doesn't normally get involved in politics, but immigration reform is an issue that affects him personally and economically.
"My family values hard work," he says. Ali and his wife came to the U.S. as refugees in 2000 from Somalia, where Ali says he worked as a banker. Their pathway to citizenship took eight years, during which time they saved enough money from doing low-paid jobs to buy the store they now operate.
Immigrants, he says, are job creators. According to the survey, they're twice as likely as U.S.-born citizens to start a small business.
"Immigration reform with a roadmap to citizenship helps ensure that those employers and employees can put down long-term roots that grow our economy and our community," Mohamed says.
"Small business owners, epsecially from the immigrant community, represent the height of the American dream," says Kevin Simowitz of Maine Small Business Coalition, a progressive organization that held a press conference in Portland and invited the Mohameds to speak with reporters.
"I think about it as the difference between renting and owning a home: When people feel like they have a long-term commitment to a community and to a country, they're able to establish roots and they grow that tax base," Simowitz says.
Simowitz says immigration reform is an issue which now cuts across party lines. "Both Democrats and Republicans from the small business community said that their current system didn't work, and that reforming the system would be most useful if it included a way for people to earn their American citizenship."
Nevetheless, there are still political divisions when it comes to immigration reform. The poll found that small business owners who identify as Democats are more supportive of reform than their Republican counterparts. Eighty-two percent of Democrat respondents supported reform, as opposed to 62 percent of Republicans.
The U.S. Senate is expected to take up immigration reform when Congress reconvenes next week. A bipartisan group of senators - known as the Gang of Eight - is expected to unveil sweeping immigration reform.
Maine's Independent Sen. Angus King admits the current immgiration system is broken, and says he's pleased that bipartisan efforts are underway to address this.
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, meanwhile, says she's looking "very closely" at the issue. She also stresses that true reform must "secure our borders, deter illegal immigration and favor those who have followed our immigration laws."
Dana Connors is president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. He says much of Maine's wider business community supports immigration reform as a way of tackling what he calls the state's population challenge.
"And how do you grow your population when we know that today we are the oldest, and that our population is predicted to be flat?" he says.
One way to grow, Connors says, is by welcoming hard-working immigrants. "Our history as a state is, quite frankly, replete with examples of growth through our immigrant community."
View the entire Main Street Alliance and the American Sustainable Business Council poll.
Photos by Tom Porter.