DACA Recipients Are Essential To Georgia’s Economy

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month the Trump administration can't carry out its plan to end the the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has allowed 700,000 young people, including 21,000 Georgians, to remain in the U.S. People celebrated the ruling outside the court. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is a major victory for thousands of young Georgia immigrants who came to America with their parents as children and only know this great state to be home, but there is still more to be done.

Nationwide, more than 200,000 DACA recipients, otherwise referred to as Dreamers, are helping their communities, neighbors, and economies endure the coronavirus pandemic, working on the frontlines of the healthcare, agriculture, transportation, and sanitation industries, among others. They’re also business owners, entrepreneurs and community leaders providing employment opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be available. Of the 21,000 Dreamers who call Georgia home, about 5,600 are working in these essential roles, and they also play a critical role in our broader economic response.

For years, Dreamers have faced unprecedented challenges, living in fear and uncertainty since the Trump administration initially attempted to rescind the program in September 2017.

On top of it all, immigrant workers were some of the hardest hit by the global health crisis, left without any financial aid from the CARES Act even though thousands are essential workers and have long contributed to state and local taxes. Georgia DACA recipients contribute an estimated $56 million in annual state and local taxes, and an estimated $64.6 million in annual federal funds which support our state’s crumbling infrastructure and help fund education and social programs that benefit our children.

As chairman of the Essential Economy Council, a Georgia-based group that examined the impact of state and national immigration policy on the economy, I keenly understand that our state’s economy and future recovery efforts rely on immigrants.

For decades, we have fostered a network of immigrant workers here in Georgia, including cooks, crop pickers, dishwashers, housekeepers, janitors, landscape crews, nursing home aides, poultry workers, stock clerks, and more. In most cases, these represent low-wage, low-skilled, labor-intensive jobs that are often held by immigrant workers.

In a time of normalcy and without a looming recession, deporting these workers would be disastrous. Now especially is not the time to act haphazardly by eliminating hundreds of thousands of much-needed members of our workforce. Instead, we should be supporting immigrant workers, including Dreamers, that will continue feeding our talent pipeline and filling essential roles so we can rebuild from the financial damages incurred from this pandemic.

While this Supreme Court decision is an indisputable victory for the DACA community, there is still a difficult road ahead for the program immigration policy more broadly.

As a state Senator, I worked diligently with my colleagues and across the aisle to ensure immigrants who have earned legal status and contribute to the workforce and economy have resources they need to succeed. Unfortunately, though, I’ve experienced first-hand how politics often cloud many peoples’ understanding of the immigrant community and their role in society as well as the depth of the DACA program situation. Judgments that are often politically motivated rather than personally driven.

A part of this disconnect stems to the DACA program’s inception, which was met with disregard and contempt as the divide between pro-immigration and anti-immigration sentiment grew wider. But the reality is, these young immigrants have grown up in Georgia, gone to school here, established careers, created families, and represent Georgia values. They are as Georgian as you and I, and we should be supporting their contributions to our state through the roles they play and the taxes they pay, not tearing them down.

While the Supreme Court decision provides temporary relief, a permanent solution needs to be passed to ensure their contributions and lives they have built here remain. And Sen. David Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler are in the position to support and urge the passage of H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients so that they can continue contributing to our great state while no longer living under extreme pressure and uncertainty. This sensible solution will ensure that Georgia’s workforce and economy can thrive as we rebuild.