On April 24, I am stepping out of my copy and print shop in Queens and making the coast to coast trip to San Francisco. Some sightseeing might be nice, but I’m not going for a look at Alcatraz. I’m going deliver a message to Wells Fargo at its shareholder meeting that small business owners like me want Wells Fargo to stop messing with our communities.
Outside my business along Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, thousands of immigrants walk with their families in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world. Immigrants from across the globe make my neighborhood a vibrant center of culture and entrepreneurship for New York City.
I run Oxium Copy and Print Shop together with my family, many of whom immigrated to the U.S. from Ecuador. My business is deeply connected to the community, and when something is going wrong I feel the pain in my heart as well as in my bottom line.
That’s why, when I learned how Wells Fargo received $43 billion of taxpayer money in the bank bailout a few years ago and then invested in for-profit immigrant detention centers infamous across the country for substandard conditions and the pain they cause our families, I had to take action.
Simply walking through Wells Fargo’s actions is enough to boil your blood. First, the American people shell out $43 billion in bailout funds for Wells Fargo during the midst of the economic downturn, which was caused in large part by the mortgage crisis they helped create. Next, instead of focusing on lending and creating jobs during the recession, Wells Fargo invests that money to build for-profit prisons to incarcerate immigrants and people of color.
Wells Fargo is one of the largest investors in the GEO Group, Inc., one of the two leading private prison companies in the U.S. GEO operates the Queens Private Correctional Facility in Jamaica, NY – practically in my back yard. (The GEO Group also sponsored and lobbied for Arizona’s HB 1070 law, one of the worst anti-immigrant laws in the country.)
The thing about for-profit prisons is, investors like Wells Fargo make more money when you fill them up. That means they’re basically betting against the community – they’re rooting for more people to get detained or sent to jail. The perverse incentives of for-profit prisons contribute to a climate of fear in the community. Fear is not an American value.
Lawsuits have been filed against private prisons because of the abuse, rape and even death of people detained inside. These for-profit prisons partake in human rights abuses sponsored by a profitable bank – Wells Fargo – that, when in crisis, took money from many of the same people it now incarcerates. This must be stopped.
Wells Fargo boasts that the bank is “America’s #1 small business lender and a leading lender to women and diverse-owned businesses.” Meanwhile, data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act Database shows that from 2007 to 2009, Wells Fargo was 188% more likely to put African-American and 117% more likely to put Latino borrowers into higher-cost, subprime loans in what many call discriminatory practices.
I have built my business on the values of hard work and honesty. When I treat customers right, they want to come back. When Wells Fargo profits off the pain and suffering of my community after taking tax-payer dollars and then boasts of lending to people of color, they have gone too far. That is not treating customers right. It’s being hypocritical.
That’s why I’m going to the bank’s shareholder meeting on April 24th representing Small Business United and Make the Road New York. I will be among hundreds of thousands of people who are part of the 99% Power coalition fighting for a more just economy for everyday Americans and small businesses, not just the top 1 percent. We plan on sending a message that it’s time for Wells Fargo to stop investing in private prisons that hurt our communities and start investing in things that help, like higher education and real support for small businesses.
Wells Fargo’s actions show a brash disregard for basic standards of accountability. We the people bailed them out, and if we don’t hold them accountable for their actions, no one will. Count me as another small business owner telling Wells Fargo to put people over profits.
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