Opinion: Immigration policy changes will help Georgia businesses, workers

Businesses across Georgia are still reeling from the negative economic impact of COVID-19. This is especially true when it comes to the state’s Hispanic-owned businesses as well as all immigrant-owned companies, their families and their employees who have had to overcome disproportionate economic and personal challenges throughout the pandemic.

While organizations like the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce are partnering with Georgia-based companies to uplift Hispanic businesses and all immigrant entrepreneurs for their ability to overcome adversity and navigate tough labor and economic complexities, we also need our elected officials to recognize them for driving economic growth and ensuring we remain in the position as the number-one state for doing business. It is our hope that doing so will lead to necessary policy changes that embrace and support all of the Peach State’s diversely led businesses that are helping to build a healthy economy. This includes passing pro-immigration policies.

Credit: vmaldonado00

Credit: vmaldonado00

Today, upwards of 80,000 immigrant entrepreneurs call Georgia home, and one in five self-employed business owners across the state is an immigrant. Immigrant-owned businesses employ millions of U.S. citizens, and bring in nearly $2 billion in business revenues for the state while building up our state’s key industries. Some of our most successful businesses are immigrant-owned which enables us to expand in new markets and remain competitive on the global scale. One Latina-owned business and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce member, Precision 2000, was founded by Colombian Guiomar Obregón – a Georgia Tech alumni – and is one of Georgia’s largest and most productive construction companies today.

Our state also relies heavily on employment-based immigration to supplement our state’s labor force in agriculture, construction, manufacturing and more. In fact, undocumented immigrants make up 33% of Georgia’s farming industry. Without necessary reforms, we could risk losing these workers and their essential contributions.

Further, the younger generation of immigrants are major drivers of growth, especially when it comes to paving the path for the new way of innovators. An estimated 70,000 Dreamers in Georgia – those who came to the U.S. at a young age – are entering the workforce across all levels. They are young thinkers and professionals who are more global, resilient, collaborative and driven to make our state and the nation a better place.

Unfortunately, failure by Congress to come to an agreement on immigration reform has contributed to immigrants’ vulnerability here in the U.S. This is especially the case for Dreamers who live in constant uncertainty.

Today, we are anxiously awaiting a ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in the State of Texas v. USA that will determine the future for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. If the ruling finds DACA illegal and halts all DACA renewals, we could risk losing 20,000 DACA recipients, the majority of whom have an education, are in the state’s labor force and have lived here for an average of 22 years.

What we need now is for Congress to establish a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, and all Dreamers, to ensure these important members of our society remain in their home. If a ruling comes down without a permanent solution in place, about 5,000 DACA recipients each week could lose their status and be subject to deportation, ultimately losing their ability to legally work.

Although valiant efforts are being made at the state level to support Georgia immigrants, there is more work to be done in order to build a more reliable workforce. Bipartisan solutions like tuition equity for Georgia Dreamers so they can access in-state tuition to earn a higher education have been proposed under the Gold Dome and could bring an additional $10 million to the state’s economy each year, creating good-paying jobs and increasing tax contributions along the way.

As the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce advocates for necessary policy changes, it is up to our elected officials to make it a reality. Any further delay to pass immigration reform will be detrimental to our state’s economic and workforce recovery, especially in the post-pandemic world. As the state, and nation, experiences a wave of senior citizens leaving the workforce, with “help wanted” signs popping up across communities, there are not nearly enough people to fill jobs. It is imperative that we leverage the existing workforce – including Georgia Dreamers – to support our businesses at a time when accessing reliable labor is difficult. Immigration reform makes business sense for the continuity of our economy.

Verónica Maldonado-Torres is the president and CEO of the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.