Tuition equity for immigrants a positive step for Georgia, economy
By Guest Columnist ISRAEL ARCE, surgical technician and Grammy-winning musician
It is a new year full of promise, particularly following the tumultuous election season. There is certainly no time to waste when it comes to promoting sensible solutions that will diversify our workforce while making our state more competitive and successful. Luckily, this seems to be exactly what Georgia state Rep. Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton) is working to achieve.
Swift action was taken by the legislator to re-introduce a tuition equity bill, House Bill 120, which would provide Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, also known as Dreamers, with a fair chance at obtaining higher education. The legislation would provide in-state tuition rates for students who meet certain criteria. Last year, the bill stalled in committee due to the pandemic and uncertainty surrounding the DACA program itself under the Trump Administration.
While there is still some uncertainty as U.S District Court Judge Andrew Hanen, of Houston, reviews the legality of DACA in a lawsuit filed by Texas and eight other states, many Dreamers have been able to take temporary sign of relief following last year’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of the program and President Biden’s recent actions to restore it. While Congress works to provide Dreamers with a pathway to citizenship, it’s important that Georgia do what it can to support Dreamers in order to grow Georgia’s economy and keep our booming business environment on track.
I’m one of more than 30,000 DACA-eligible Georgia residents. Tuition equity for undocumented young immigrants will do more than expand access to in-state education options. It also will help develop our state’s workforce by filling critical labor gaps and shortages as we work to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
For years, Dreamers have lived their lives in a state of uncertainty, constantly concerned about what their future could look like. In fact, all undocumented immigrants have been forced to live with the consequences of misguided policies that limited their opportunity to find hope and a new life in the United States. This comes even as immigrants are extremely important to our state and nation’s COVID-19 response.
I’ve always wanted to care for my fellow neighbor, which is what carried me through to my current job as a surgical technician. My goal is to work hard and to integrate myself into the team, which is exactly what thousands of young immigrants and Dreamers want to do in their Georgia communities.
While leaders on both the state and federal level work to determine permanent solutions for DACA recipients, allowing young immigrants to put their talents and skills to good use through fair and equitable access to higher education is a step in the right direction. Tuition equity is a great step forward in ensuring young immigrants are granted the ability to pursue higher education opportunities and feed into Georgia’s workforce.
Without access to in-state tuition, Dreamers are unable to fully participate in the American economy. Georgia is losing an estimated $10 million in tax revenue as a result of prohibiting Dreamers from tuition equity rates. Georgia is also experiencing a labor shortage in key industries where more college graduates are needed to fill these openings, regardless of their country of origin or their parents’ legal status within the United States. With all the economic challenges we face today, we should support young Georgia immigrants’ higher education so they can fill jobs and contribute more money back into our economy.
Tuition equity should always have a place in our society. Considering the current state of our country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, its importance is only further emphasized. Despite the vaccines being more widely distributed, the fight to come back as a nation is still in full swing, Immigrants can only help with these efforts by taking on essential jobs and contributing to necessary industries.
Today, we have the opportunity to work together towards a more humane and civil immigration system that benefits our state’s competitiveness and business environment. At the end of the day, most Americans agree immigrants are a good thing for our country, as they give back and enrich our communities beyond measure. With immigrants representing more than 10% of nurses and 18% of health aides in Georgia, it is certainly true that the immigrant community will continue to support our families and businesses. However, without access to equitable higher education, a substantial amount of essential jobs will go unfilled. Thankfully, this bill will help to ensure that young immigrants can continue to join the fight, as it is far from over.
Ultimately, Georgia’s Dreamers are entrepreneurs, teachers, nurses, and engineers who live, work, and contribute to nearly every community across the state. I’ve always known my immigrant community to be extremely hardworking, especially in the face of adversity, so it is beyond time that we put in place real reforms that can benefit everyone. I applaud Rep. Carpenter for recognizing their potential by reintroducing this sound piece of legislation. I urge state lawmakers to swiftly consider and pass this important policy so more Georgia immigrants can pursue a higher in-state education and contribute to our recovering economy.
Note to readers: Israel Arce is one of millions of essential workers fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic, in his case through his work as a surgical technician. Due to a lack of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Israel has not been able to see his parents in 6 years.