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Congress should take action to protect all Georgia taxpayers, regardless of status

By Guest Columnist ROXANA CHICAS, post-doctoral fellow at Emory University and former TPS holder from El Salvador

COVID-19 continues to ravage our nation, yet Congress has reached a stalemate in negotiations for the next COVID-19 relief package and attacks on immigrant communities ensue. A timely compromise that meets the needs of American families and businesses is critical, as well as safeguards for the immigrant community, including myself.

Roxana Chicas

Rebuilding from the coronavirus pandemic will require the revitalization of Georgia’s most important industries – from agriculture, to tech, to re-energizing the diverse university system that feeds life into our state’s workforce. To be successful, we must make sure that people across all backgrounds and in all industries can weather both the health and financial hardships brought on by the pandemic. Congress has the opportunity to achieve these goals during the next COVID-19 package by including the immigrant in relief, and voters should remember the importance of electing pro-immigrant leaders when they vote this November.

Throughout this public health crisis, immigrants have been on the front lines of our state’s response efforts as key members of the essential workforce. We’ve helped maintain our state’s food supply chain, worked in building maintenance and sanitation, and served as nurses and doctors – but that’s not all. Many Georgia immigrants pay taxes each year, including Temporary Protected Status holders and the 21,000 Georgia Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients who contributed an estimated $78 million in annual state and local taxes as well as roughly  $105.8 million in annual federal taxes.

Unfortunately, the CARES Act that was passed earlier this year left out many in the immigrant community, including those who were forced out of work yet still required to pay bills. This included U.S. citizen spouses and children who file taxes in mixed status households, yet were ineligible to receive stimulus funds. Georgia alone is home to an estimated 488,000 people in mixed status families, including 176,000 children and spouses who are American citizens or green card holders paying taxes, that were excluded from receiving any financial assistance.

Congress should enact the Dream and Promise Act, already passed by the House, to establish a pathway to permanent protections for TPS and DACA holders, the author contends. Credit: Martin Falbisoner via wikimedia.org

The next relief package should include all taxpayers, regardless of immigration status, and should extend pandemic unemployment insurance. To protect public health and safety, coronavirus health services, such as testing and coverage, should be free for all Georgians, including immigrants, as well.

Further, our nation’s immigration policies should focus on creating economic stability and driving a more inclusive and diverse workforce. All DACA recipients, including about 96% across the nation who are employed or enrolled in school, should not have to worry that one day they could wake up without a home. The same goes for TPS holders, more than 9,200 of whom reside in Georgia and who face legislative uncertainty. Despite this, the Trump administration has renewed its efforts to terminate the DACA and TPS programs, including limiting DACA renewals and new applications, and a Sept. 14 ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in the Northern District of California, in Ramos vs. Nielsen could allow the administration to deport nearly 400,000 TPS holders.

Congress should take action by passing the House-passed Dream and Promise Act that would establish an earned pathway to permanent protections for DACA recipients and TPS holders.

Congress also should pass a COVID-19 relief package that protects all Georgians – regardless of immigration status.  This is the only way we can remain competitive and strengthen communities here in Georgia and across the nation as we rebuild from the coronavirus pandemic.

It is up to those who are able to vote to use their voices to elect pro-immigrant elected officials to make this a reality. For too long, the president and his administration have kept the immigration system broken to their advantage. However, there is no recovery from the coronavirus pandemic without immigrant families and there is no America without the promise for a better tomorrow that we have long offered to immigrants. While there is a lot for us to be proud of as we’ve united together through unrest and uncertainty this year, we must not be content with the status quo. Immigrants deserve better; Georgia deserves better.

Note to readers: Roxana Chicas holds a doctorate degree in nursing and is a clinical instructor at Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University. A former holder of Temporary Protected Status from El Salvador, Chicas was a member of the inaugural class of the Bridges to the Baccalaureate Scholar program at Emory, which supports nurses from underrepresented groups to attain nursing bachelor’s degrees.

As a bilingual and bicultural nursing scholar, Chicas focuses on environmental exposures and occupational health hazards among immigrant agricultural workers. Chicas is a co-founder and the vice-president of the Georgia Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses.

 

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