Opinion: Action needed in Ga. and Congress on immigration relief

In 2010, Jason Rosales, 10, and his sister Jessica Rosales, 8, of Norcross, hold American flags during a march in support of immigration reform in downtown Atlanta.
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In 2010, Jason Rosales, 10, and his sister Jessica Rosales, 8, of Norcross, hold American flags during a march in support of immigration reform in downtown Atlanta.

Credit: Miguel Martinez, Mundo Hispanico

Credit: Miguel Martinez, Mundo Hispanico

Immigrants of all backgrounds contribute to our economy, workforce, and communities in the form of skills, talent, labor and financial support. Today, one in 10 residents in the Peach State is an immigrant and about 10% of Georgia’s foreign born residents are undocumented. As a whole – regardless of status – the immigrant community holds an annual spending power of over $29 billion and they pay an estimated $10.8 billion in taxes annually. These contributions are already significant, and they are even more so when considering the state of our economy following the pandemic.

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Attorney Charles Kuck in 2015 was representing 39 immigrants without legal status suing the state Board of Regents to be allowed to pay cheaper in-state tuition at Georgia’s public colleges. (Miguel Martínez/Mundo Hispanico)

Attorney Charles Kuck in 2015 was representing 39 immigrants without legal status suing the state Board of Regents to be allowed to pay cheaper in-state tuition at Georgia’s public colleges. (Miguel Martínez/Mundo Hispanico)
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Attorney Charles Kuck in 2015 was representing 39 immigrants without legal status suing the state Board of Regents to be allowed to pay cheaper in-state tuition at Georgia’s public colleges. (Miguel Martínez/Mundo Hispanico)

Across Georgia, immigrants are relied upon to fill many job vacancies in key industries, and 58% of the undocumented immigrant population work in essential industries across the state, such as healthcare, farm work, and education. They are right here with all other citizens struggling to keep their businesses open, send their kids safely to school, and keep food on the table. Thankfully, state leaders on both sides of the aisle came together to establish pro-growth immigration reform that would also build our economic opportunity.

This year, state representatives collaborated as part of the House Study Committee on Innovative Ways to Maximize Global Talent in Georgia to help fight for sensible policies that will position all of us for success – undocumented immigrants as well. This includes improving opportunities for the next generation of workers to earn an education and enter the labor force across all levels and industries. This wouldn’t only help immigrant students earn a higher education, but our entire college system would become the transformative opportunity it promises to be.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported that 21 of 26 colleges in the University System of Georgia showed a decrease in enrollment. However, if we reduce arbitrary barriers for undocumented Georgians to attend college, the school system and our entire state, would directly benefit.

According to a new report by FWD.us, about 30,000 undocumented young adults in Georgia could immediately benefit from tuition equity so they can earn an education and continue contributing to the Peach State. By accessing in-state tuition rates, these Dreamers could attend college as the Georgians they are and improve the state’s economic competitiveness. Further, tuition equity for undocumented immigrants would benefit all Georgians by adding as much as $10 million to the economy each year. And this is just one of many proposals that could impact Georgia’s growing potential.

While state elected officials focus on growing our communities, it is imperative that efforts at the federal level match. This includes passing immigration relief through the Build Back Better Act that allows an estimated 7 million undocumented individuals to apply for work permits and deportation protections. While this only impacts a portion of the nation’s immigrant community, it is a step in the right direction after nearly three decades of congressional inaction on immigration reform.

With a majority of Americans on both sides of the aisle in agreement that immigrants without citizenship should have some access to a pathway for earned legal status, we need Congress, including Senator Warnock and Senator Ossoff, to pass immigration relief now and offer up their clear and emphatic support for passing a pathway to citizenship for all later.

Georgia greatly benefits from our immigrant population, and we would be remiss to cast them aside as though they do nothing for us. We need transformative immigration relief that allows for people to find certainty and stay with their families. This ultimately encourages undocumented immigrants to continue working to reach their full potential, while in turn, benefiting the whole state.

Charles Kuck is the founder and managing partner of Kuck Baxter Immigration and oversees its global immigration practice.