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International Trade Center Recognizes "Immigrants in Our Midst"

On November 4, 2016, SIUE’s International Trade Center and College of Arts and Sciences, TheBANK of Edwardsville and additional partners hosted a one-day conference, “Immigrants in Our Midst,” that focused on how to better serve U.S. immigrants’ financial, legal and social needs.

The event included presentations by regional specialists in the fields of banking, immigration law, Latino outreach, employment services and more. In attendance were professionals and students seeking to increase their involvement with the immigrant communities in and around St. Louis.

Raffi Mikael, an SIUE alumnus, helped coordinate the event.

Rob Schwartz, senior vice president of retail banking of TheBank of Edwardsville, kicked off the conference by addressing attendees with details about the national recognition their new branch at the Fairmont City Library earned. “TheBANK of Edwardsville was honored to be one of only six banks nationwide to receive the American Bankers Association Community Commitment Award,” said Schwartz. “We were recognized in the category of Non-traditional Borrower and Unbanked for our new branch in the Fairmont City library, and for our work in serving the unbanked and underbanked.” TheBANK of Edwardsville was also named an honorable mention in the Affordable Housing category for its MyCOMMUNITY Home Loan product, which helps individuals obtain mortgage who would not qualify through traditional lending programs.

Ken Schmitt, founder and principal of US Legal Solutions, said the discussions at the ITC’s Nov. 4 event produced constructive dialogue. The forum is an ongoing component of US Legal Solutions’ outreach to its member service providers as they deliver a wide array of services to the immigrant community in Southwestern Illinois.

“Our annual ‘Immigrants in the Midst’ conference has always played a key role in providing this support to members,” Schmitt said. “It was particularly gratifying to be involved in hosting this conference with the International Trade Center at SIUE because we were able to join with key co-sponsors to provide a high-quality, high-impact program for more than twice the number of attendees we had the year before.”

Schmitt added that for many of the November 2016 conference attendees, it was their first exposure to the Latino Roundtable of Southwestern Illinois. “We certainly invite those who came to the conference last fall to participate in our many other opportunities during 2017,” he said.

Latino Roundtable President Mercedes Collado agreed. “It seems everyone I speak with expresses appreciation for the inspiring presentations offered at ‘Immigrants in Our Midst’ conference,’ Collado said. “The years of research and the depth of understanding our presenters conveyed was informative and eye-opening for many of the participants. Latino Roundtable has been putting together this type of conference for the past 10 years and will continue with its mission and vision of creating awareness about the Hispanic culture and our immigration community in Illinois.”

Immigration law practitioner Jessie Chappell, founder of Chappell Grant Immigration LLC, said the SIUE ITC conference proved valuable not only for immigrants but for professionals who have been working in the international community for years. “Even though I work with immigrants daily, I was still surprised by all of the new information I gained at this program,” said Chappell. “Seeing how vital immigrants are to our neighborhoods and our economy helped me recognize the instability that mass deportations would cause. This conference taught me how to effectively research local immigration trends. I also learned how to connect foreign and U.S.-born communities. All of this expertise gave me the tools to connect my clients with the many resources that can help them succeed in their personal and professional lives.”

Speakers at the conference included Dr. J.S. Onésimo (Ness) Sandoval, Associate Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Saint Louis University; Michele Waslin, Senior Research and Policy Analyst at the American Immigration Council; Ronda Sauget, Executive Director of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois; Cecilia Velazquez, founder of Red Latina newspaper and Betsy Cohen, Executive Director of the St. Louis Mosaic Project.

The International Trade Center at SIUE serves entrepreneurs and small businesses in southern Illinois by providing individualized export consultation, identification of foreign buyers, agents and/or distributors through trade leads, international market analysis and more.

The ITC is funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and SIUE as a service to the region’s entrepreneurial and business community.

For more information on conducting business globally contact the ITC at , (618) 650-3851 or by visiting

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The Illinois SBDC International Trade Center is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville as a service to Illinois small businesses

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