Nearly one in 10 Georgians today was born outside the United States and one in five under 18 has at least one immigrant parent. Our immigrant neighbors worship alongside us, teach our children, volunteer in our communities, care for our loved ones, serve as first responders and work hard to provide for their families. Foreign-born Georgians deserve all the dignity and respect one would show any person, and all the opportunities possible to unlock their full potential.
The Peach State’s growing community of foreign-born Georgians is also a significant asset, providing a powerful boost to Georgia’s economy, workforce and finances. Welcoming newcomers with open arms, rather than alienating them through misguided and hostile policies, is essential if we are to ensure Georgia remains an attractive and competitive state with a strong economy, high quality of life and thriving communities. Immigrants’ positive contributions are undeniable:
- Immigrants play an outsized role as small business owners and entrepreneurs. Foreign-born Georgians own an estimated 31 percent of Georgia’s main street businesses, despite comprising about 10 percent of the state’s population.
- Immigrants fill critical roles in high demand sectors of Georgia’s economy. Foreign-born Georgians account for 10 percent of nurses and medical assistants and 23 percent of doctors. In addition, foreign-born Georgians are filling critical workforce gaps in the fields of software development, skilled construction trades and farming.
- Immigrant taxpayers contribute to Georgia’s bottom line. As immigrants start businesses, buy homes, earn wages and spend disposable income at local businesses, they generate considerable state and local tax revenue regardless of citizenship status. Undocumented Georgians contributed an estimated $352 million in state and local taxes in 2014, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
Immigrants’ contribution to Georgia’s well-being is perhaps most notable among the state’s 47,000 Dreamers whose fate now hangs in the balance due to President Donald Trump’s rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Young Georgians brought to the country as children earn about $800 million a year in wages, and contribute an estimated $66 million in state and local taxes. Those dollars flow through our local and state economies, driving consumer spending and boosting economic activity. If the U.S. Congress and the Trump administration fail to broker a compromise to protect these young Georgians permanently, the state’s economy will suffer. Deporting Georgia’s Dreamers could shrink the state’s economy by an estimated $1.7 billion a year.
Georgia’s immigrant population offers untapped potential. About one in five Georgia immigrants, or 195,000 state residents, live in the country on a legal permanent basis and likely meet eligibility requirements to apply for citizenship. Naturalization can provide many concrete benefits to immigrants and their families, including higher wages, better job prospects, stronger legal protections and the right to vote. A concerted effort by Georgia lawmakers and community leaders to encourage lawful permanent residents to become citizens and smooth their path could add up to $639 million in annual earnings to the state’s economy and as much as $62 million a year in state and local tax revenue.
Many states and cities around the country are recognizing the value of their immigrant populations. Georgia should open doors to immigrants by showcasing welcoming and inclusive policies and abandon rhetoric and proposals like stigmatized ID cards for noncitizens and English-only constitutional amendments. Such hostile efforts contribute to a myth that the American dream is finite. The truth is that when social and economic barriers for immigrants are dismantled, all of us can enjoy the promise of a more equitable and prosperous future.