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Whirlwind of pandemic, immigration issues face future leader of Hispanic Chamber

By David Pendered

The first orders of business facing the incoming leader of the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce may involve helping to manage inflection points as the economy recovers from the pandemic, and as two federal immigration lawsuits are resolved in Texas.

Ivan Shammas

The GHCC has launched a search for a chief executive officer to succeed Santiago Marquez, who stepped down last summer to take the executive director’s position with the Latin American Association. Former UPS executive Gabriel Vaca was named interim director.

“This is an exciting time for the GHCC and Atlanta as we focus on identifying an inspiring, innovative and future-focused leader who will elevate our chamber’s rich history and influence for the empowerment of Hispanic businesses as well as the overall Georgia business community,” Ivan Shammas, chair of the chamber’s board of directors and general manager of Telemundo Atlanta, said in a statement.

The lawsuits are occurring in real time and are national in scope:

  • On Feb. 23, U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton issued a ruling that permanently halted President Biden’s Jan. 20 executive order that sought to pause for 100 days the removal of undocumented residents already subject to a final order of removal. Tipton, an appointee of former President Trump who serves in Victoria, Tx. wrote that his ruling was nationwide and would stand until resolved by another court, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • On Dec. 22, 2020 U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen heard motions in Brownsville, Tx. in a lawsuit involving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. No date for a ruling has been announced. Texas and other states (not Georgia) filed a lawsuit in 2018 to challenge the 2012 executive order issued by then President Obama that created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Emory University has joined other schools in a brief that supports the DACA program. The Supreme Court in June 2020 issued a ruling that rejected the Trump administration’s effort to end DACA, and returned the policy to the Department of Homeland Security for further consideration.
Yehimi Cambrón, homepage

Atlanta muralist Yehimi Cambrón has kept her business open during the pandemic with projects including this one in Hapeville: ‘We Give Each Other the World.’ File/Credit: Yehimi Cambrón

The pandemic is on the front burner of the 1,300 GHCC members. They are among more than 1 million Latino residents in Georgia, which the chamber reports as having the 9th largest Latino population in the nation.

To assess the pandemic’s effects on Hispanic and other communities in Atlanta, the city and Latino Community Fund are collaborating on a digital survey with New American Economy, a national non-profit research organization. The Walmart Foundation funded the project.

Atlanta expects to use results to inform pandemic recovery efforts. New American Economy is to incorporate findings from Atlanta and other cities into its Cities Index.

“There is no doubt the devastating effects of COVID-19 will be long lasting and profound,” Gilda Pedraza, CEO of the Latino Community Fund, said in a statement issued by the city. “Documenting how they look in the daily lives of some of the most vulnerable immigrant communities in the country is the first step towards equitable recovery. We are looking forward to this work and to the opportunities it will create to champion fair and just policies for all.”

The 22-page questionnaire is divided into six topics, each with a few questions:

The Latino Community Fund is encouraging Facebook friends to take a survey on their thoughts about the pandemic. Credit: Facebook.com

  • “Personal and household wellbeing (Do you have access to paid sick time if your become ill);
  • “Access to economic relief (Did you receive a stimulus check from the federal government in 2020?);
  • “Cultural and linguistic inclusion (Do you feel like you have regular access to timely, accurate information during the pandemic in your preferred language?);
  • “Perception of Response and Sense of Belonging (My family and friends are receiving adequate help from the city government to… Check all that apply…);
  • “Demographic information;
  • “Open-ended questions (How could your local government do better at helping you through this crisis? How has COVID-19 affected your sense of safety, well-being, or belonging in your community?)”


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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