Short of workers? Advocates say educating immigrants could help

Proposed legislation would make education more affordable for some immigrant groups
Yehimi Cambrón, a DACA-recipient, speaks at a Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies (CRSA) event on Thursday, February 10, 2022.

Credit: CRSA Facebook page

Credit: CRSA Facebook page

Yehimi Cambrón, a DACA-recipient, speaks at a Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies (CRSA) event on Thursday, February 10, 2022.

For years, near the beginning of the legislative session, a local coalition of refugee and immigrant-serving organizations has visited the Georgia State Capitol, where advocates celebrate immigrants’ contributions to the state – and push to increase them.

This time around, members and allies of the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies (CRSA) suspect their pro-immigrant message will be more well-received, in part because of widespread handwringing over the hardships Georgia businesses are facing in their search for qualified workers.

Immigrants lawfully residing in the state, advocates argue, could be part of the solution, especially if they have access to education and training opportunities.

“Today we are witnessing a coming together of Georgians across party lines … across the metro rural divide and across every sector of Georgia’s economy to recognize the deep pool of talent that Georgia has in these [immigrant] communities,” said Darlene Lynch, co-chair of CRSA.

During this year’s Capitol visit, which took place on Thursday, members of the immigrant and advocacy communities voiced support for two proposed bills that would expand access to in-state tuition in Georgia public colleges for specific categories of foreign-born students.

House Bill 932 would extend in-state tuition rates to refugee students as soon as they settle in the state, voiding the one-year waiting period that is currently enforced. The bill would also cover individuals who have worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government in Afghanistan or Iraq and have been granted a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV).

House Bill 120 would extend in-state tuition rates to beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which provides relief from deportation to certain unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

Both bills are led by Republican legislators, with Democratic support. In-state tuition rates for public institutions of higher learning in Georgia are roughly three times smaller than those out-of-state students must pay.

Yehimi Cambrón is an Atlanta-based artist, DACA recipient, and former DeKalb County high school teacher. She was born in Mexico and moved to Georgia at 7 years old.

She said she has been “pining for equity for higher education for all Georgia students” since her time as a high school student and then a high school teacher, where she worked with immigrants like herself.

“Based on my own experiences, I knew that to help my students I needed to tell them to take their talents and their passions to states that would welcome them,” she said.

Yehimi Cambrón, photographed on October 11, 2017. She previously taught art at Cross Keys High School in DeKalb County.

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Support for measures that would facilitate immigrants’ and refugees’ access to public education is not universal in Georgia. As recently as 2020, bills like HB 120 that sought to extend in-state tuition to DACA recipients proved unsuccessful.

But economic concerns could tilt the political outlook. Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock, is HB 932′s lead sponsor.

“We currently have more jobs in Georgia available than we have people to fill them. A lot of small business owners are telling me, ‘We need access to more labor,’” he said. “All [refugees] want to do is work. They want to live the American dream.”