Congress must pass immigration relief now to unite communities, raise economic growth
By Guest Columnist ANTONIO MOLINA, chairman, Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
As a U.S. Navy Veteran, a community leader here in the state of Georgia, and current chairman of the board for the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, I am incredibly proud of the progress that the Latino community has made across the nation and the Peach state.
Today, of the estimated 12.2 million total business owners nationwide, 1.2 million are Latino immigrants, with many right here in Georgia. Not to mention, over 1 million Latinos call Georgia home and contribute to our communities and economy. In fact, Georgia’s Latino community accounts for 9 percent of our state’s total population, holds an annual spending power of $6.1 billion, and pays $1.9 billion in federal, state, and local taxes annually.
As a Salvadoran immigrant myself who came to America at a young age and was raised in Miami, I experienced first-hand the unique challenges that many Latinos and immigrants face when working towards success. After graduating high school, I enlisted in the United States Navy where I served as GSM2 for six years. I carry my Navy core values with me each and every day, and they were what propelled me into the healthcare industry, where I geared my practice toward helping the uninsured or under-insured community of metro Atlanta, and later into law.
My success story is one of millions. That’s why in my current position I’ve been helping educate the public on the immense contributions of immigrants in their communities, businesses and beyond, and the hardships they have faced, so that these success stories can continue. Importantly, the diversity, innovation, and resiliency of our state’s immigrants is helping drive success for all Georgians and we must preserve America’s legacy as a land of opportunity by recognizing, supporting, and protecting their contributions. Without an open-arms policy, my father, a Cuban refugee who came here during Pedro Pan, would have never had the opportunity to eventually become a physician and serve as one in the Army Reserve.
The pandemic unleashed devastating economic and personal impacts for business owners, their employees and their families. This included, often disproportionately, immigrant workers who have kept key industries afloat throughout the uncertainty. According to a FWD.us report, 180,000 undocumented Georgian immigrants are employed in essential industries, including nearly 10,000 undocumented Georgian farmworkers. Their importance has been underscored as food prices and shortages have caused headaches for the grocery and restaurant industries in Georgia and beyond.
If we truly want to grow Georgia’s business community, then we must seek solutions that empower all Georgians to succeed, regardless of background or heritage. Right now, this means exploring all avenues available in Congress to enact immigration relief. This includes exploring immigration relief provisions like those in the House-passed Build Back Better Act.
Provisions like those in this bill would allow millions of undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for an average of 20 years, including 220,000 right here in Georgia, the ability to access work permits that could bring stability to their lives while expanding our economy to the tune of $561 million each year. Ultimately, immigration relief today means we could get one step closer towards achieving an all-hands-on-deck strategy to emerge stronger after the pandemic, especially as our state continues to battle worker shortages and skills gaps in key industries.
It is beyond time for Congress to take necessary steps to reform our nation’s overly complex immigration system to create a pathway to earned citizenship for all who came to America in hopes of a brighter, more prosperous future. The challenges today are much greater, however, I ask Georgia senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, as well as our representatives in the House, to continue working to get immigration reform passed by Congress. I also call on all of my fellow Georgians to join me in working to make Georgia the most welcoming, successful, opportunity-filled state it can be.