The court has spoken, now we need permanent protections for Georgia Dreamers
By Guest Columnist SANTIAGO MARQUEZ, CEO of the Latin American Association
At the beginning of 2020, our state Legislature hit the ground running to accomplish the ample priorities on its plate for the year. In the midst of the annual kick-off, however, Georgia and the rest of the nation was forced to turn its attention to tackling the public health threat created by COVID-19. Suddenly, it was all hands-on deck to prevent the spread of the virus. Today, even more efforts are needed to hinder the continued increase in cases across the nation.
Critical to this response, and among our nation’s first responders on the front lines fighting this deadly virus, are Georgia’s immigrants, including our more than 21,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, 5,600 of whom are working in essential health care, food, and education roles.
For DACA recipients – mostly young immigrants who came to the United States at the average age of 6 years old and who have applied for and earned the ability to legally work and study here – there are many additional layers of uncertainty amidst this pandemic and growing contempt against the immigrant community. In fact, there’s even more hostility today across the nation as civil injustices highlight the need to address the harsh reality that many minority communities still face unprecedented discrimination and challenges.
During this crisis and always, our nation’s immigrants are an indispensable part of our healthcare workforce, serving as personal care attendants for the elderly, nurses, doctors, and more. They are also significant contributors to our agriculture industry. In fact, 73 percent of farm workers are immigrants who are helping to protect the flow of food to families across the country.
For years, DACA recipients and advocates have been urging the Administration to halt efforts to end the DACA program, as the nation would lose hundreds of thousands of talented individuals that are crucial members of our community and workforce – including our coronavirus response – if their protections are removed.
Today, we need to stand up for DACA recipients to protect our communities and economy, because even though Georgia has topped the rankings for the best state to conduct business for the sixth year in a row, it’s going to be an uphill battle to bring back the competitive and prosperous business environment we had prior to this pandemic.
As we regain losses in the coming months and years, we need to focus on policies that expand our workforce and business opportunities – setting us up for long-term success. This includes the immigrants and DACA recipients who pay taxes and contribute each day to Georgia’s economy, talent pipeline, and workforce. In fact, Georgia alone would feel the economic effects of losing out on $99 million in state taxes that DACA recipients contribute, as well as $802.7 million in spending power that they hold.
As Georgia lawmakers make important policy decisions over the coming months, I encourage them to prioritize all Georgians while doing so. I see many unique opportunities forming for lawmakers to support efforts that increase immigrants in our talent pool, such as providing in-state tuition for DACA recipients at the state level.
Importantly, U.S. senators should act to provide Dreamers with permanent protections through legislation. I encourage lawmakers to work together to find sensible solutions like these to overcome the damage caused by COVID-19, to unite our communities and to foster a stronger future for the Peach State.
Note to readers: Santiago Marquez is the CEO of the Latin American Association, the region’s leading agency representing Georgia’s Latino issues. Prior to joining the Latin American Association, Marquez was President and CEO of the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce from 2008 to 2020.