Expanding in-state tuition to Georgia DACA recipients boosts workforce

February 19, 2021 4:00 am

Our guest commentator says Georgia DACA recipients should pay the same tuition as other Georgians as proposed in a bill by Rep. Kasey Carpenter. In this 2020 photo, people celebrate outside the Supreme Court after the high court threw out president Donald Trump’s plans to dismantle DACA. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

As new executive and congressional leadership takes charge with the goal of revitalizing our nation’s immigration system, we must recognize at a local level how immigration can stimulate Georgia’s communities and economy. By doing so, we can take advantage of opportunities for growth and prosperity, which are particularly important as we rebuild from the pandemic.

Our COVID-19 response has relied heavily on essential workers. From doctors and nurses, to sanitation workers, farmers, and teachers, the essential workforce has risked their lives to provide essential services to our communities. This includes more than 23 million immigrant essential workers. Here in Georgia, industries are powered every day with foreign-born individuals, making up nearly 10% of all nurses, 18% of health aids, 31% of building services workers and 53% of personal care services.

While millions of people are still grappling with the pandemic’s financial hardships, education remains a top priority. Rightfully so, it’s vital to creating a talented labor pool. But some young Georgia immigrants who only know Georgia as home lack access to in-state tuition rates, discouraging them from participating in our workforce.

Thankfully, lawmakers in the Georgia House understand the imminent threat to our labor force and identified an opportunity to better equip talented and qualified young immigrants with the tools to achieve their dreams and participate in our economy.

A bill introduced by state Rep. Kasey Carpenter, a Dalton Republican, proposes to expand fair and equitable higher education opportunities to young Georgia immigrants, primarily recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, so they can fill the skills gap and key labor shortages and help us build a prosperous workforce while ensuring sustained economic growth for the state of Georgia.

Since the inception of the program, DACA recipients have lived in a state of limbo. All the while, they contribute more than $61.3 million in state and local taxes and $64.6 million in federal taxes. While other states allow Dreamers to access in-state tuition to attend statewide universities, Georgia only allows them to obtain out-of-state tuition costs, which is at least three times higher than in-state tuition. This pushes talented students to pursue education elsewhere and Georgia loses an estimated $10 million in tax revenue per year, simply by barring academically prepared Dreamers from accessing tuition equity rates.

By failing to expand access to in-state tuition rates for young Georgia Dreamers, we are failing these young people. My wife and I are deeply involved in helping immigrant youth use their unique talents and skills to propel them toward success, and we’ve seen how limited access to tuition equity has affected their paths.

In 2011, I met a young man named Emmanuel who had recently begun attending our after-school programs at Path Project. When Emmanuel was six-years-old, his parents moved him from Mexico to the U.S. to provide a better life and education for their five children. As I got to know Emmanuel, I quickly realized he was a smart, honest and talented young man. He was an excellent soccer player for his high school team and, to this day, one of my favorite memories is seeing his parents on the field with him at Senior Night.

In 2016, Emmanuel became the first person in his family to graduate high school. His long-time dream was to go to Gwinnett Tech where he could learn how to be a barber and open his own business. However, his status as a DACA recipient meant he had to pay out-of-state tuition to attend. This financial burden was too much for Emmanuel to overcome, so he never attended.

Today, Emmanuel is a hardworking young man who loves his family, Georgia, and America. He works, pays taxes, has a driver’s license and is a positive member of our community. However, if in-state tuition was an option, he would have attended college to follow his dreams and make an even greater contribution as a small business owner. It’s my hope that someday he’ll be able to achieve this dream just like so many other young Americans.

 As our elected officials in Congress work with the new administration to provide a more permanent pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, we must keep working at the local level to improve our businesses and communities. This bill would certainly help young immigrants like Emmanuel aim higher through expanded access to education, but it would ultimately help Georgia become more attractive through diversification and innovation that fuels generational success. I urge Georgia lawmakers to get behind this important piece of legislation and support our youth today for a brighter tomorrow.

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Jim Hollandsworth
Jim Hollandsworth

Jim Hollandsworth is co-founder and executive director of the Path Project and is the former executive pastor at Graystone Church in Loganville, GA