By Maria Saporta
A placard at the Latin American Association on Buford Highway says it all.
“Help us rally support for legislation to protect DACA recipients!”
DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – an American immigration policy that has allowed individuals who entered the country illegally as minors to receive deferred action from deportation and be eligible to work.
Protecting DACA recipients (also known as dreamers) from deportation has become a rallying cry – in Georgia and nationally.
In fact, the U.S. government shutdown over the weekend largely because of the DACA issue.
And, on Monday, the U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to a spending cap, disaster aid and immigration between now and Feb. 8. If there were to be no agreement by Feb. 8, McConnell promised there would be a vote with an amendment process on immigration, according to CNN.
The shutdown was lifted after the U.S. Senate and U.S. House voted on compromise legislation on Monday.
But that pushes back a resolution on the DACA issue for at least a couple of weeks, and that places thousands of Georgians on edge.
“In Georgia, there are about 24,000 DACA recipients that we are trying to protect,” said Anibal Torres, executive director of the Latin American Association, which has been a leading organization shining the light on the issue in Georgia.
There are about 800,000 DACA recipients across the country.
David Schaefer, director of advocacy for the Latin American Association, said the brinksmanship that happened over the weekend was encouraging.
“There’s a new level of political will that we haven’t seen before,” Schaefer said.
At the “Power to Polls” rally in southwest Atlanta on Saturday, two topics dominated – the empowerment of women and support for DACA recipients.
Eighty percent of Americans support a path towards citizenship for dreamers, Torres said. And the Latin American Association has formed a coalition of about 30 organizations that are working together on the issue.
“We have had a version of the Dream Act since 2001, so this has been a long time coming,” Schaefer said. “We essentially had a (government) shutdown because of DACA.”
Schaefer credited the dreamers for having the courage to come out of the shadows so they could become full participants in a country where many have lived for most of their lives.
“The dreamers have risked it all,” said Schaefer, adding that the LAA has been serving dreamers for years – through classes, training and other services. “The DACA issue is a personal one for us. The dreamers are so compelling. They are American in every sense of the word except they don’t have a piece of paper.”
Also in Georgia, there continues to be legislative proposals that can be viewed as being anti-immigrant and anti-Latino. For example, there are “English only” bills, and there have been proposals for drivers licenses to identify those who don’t have legal immigration status.
The coalition of organizations are trying to make sure Georgia is a welcoming state – just like many municipalities in metro Atlanta have become welcoming cities.
As Torres said, it is important for state legislators to understand that DACA and a reasonable immigration policy is essential to Georgia’s economy.
“We want people to know their rights,” Torres said. “ We will do whatever we can do legally. Because of our position here in Georgia, I hope we play a role and have a voice on these issues. That’s one reason we are putting on our conference.”
The Latin American Association is holding its first annual “State of Latinos Conference” on Jan. 29 and Jan. 30 at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta.
A keynote speaker Monday morning will be Alexander Acosta, secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor. Also David M. Lubell, executive director of Welcoming America, will lead a discussion with several mayors from Georgia cities. There also will be an immigration panel on Monday afternoon.
On Tuesday, the conference will have two tracks – one focused on education and the other one on housing – two issues central to the Latino community.
Because the DACA issue is still unresolved, it will continue to cast a shadow on how the United States is perceived – both at home and abroad.
But Schaefer continues to have hope that the public will continue to rally in support of DACA recipients, and that the issue will be resolved in a constructive and humane way.
“If we get DACA right, we think it sets a productive tone for comprehensive immigration reform that we need,” Schaefer said. “We see DACA as a litmus test for the kind of immigration reform that all of us want.”