Jaime Rangel: Session is over, but the fight for Georgia immigrants is not

Jaime Rangel

In March, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators reintroduced the DREAM Act, nearly two decades after it was first introduced. Their colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced the American Dream and Promise Act. If passed, these bills would offer undocumented individuals who came here as children — individuals like myself — the opportunity to pursue an earned pathway to citizenship. Members of Georgia’s congressional delegation, whether Republican or Democrat, have expressed profuse public support for Dreamers for some time now. Unfortunately, their colleagues in Congress have prioritized politics over pragmatism and left a commonsense solution in limbo.

It is clear that we should not just wait around for Washington, D.C. That’s why Georgians from every corner of the state have been taking the initiative to build support from Dreamers from the ground up. Dreamers have the drive and the skills to improve our rural communities and accelerate innovation and entrepreneurship in our cities. In Dalton, where I grew up and now live, our local elected officials and business leaders have come together to advocate for the value that Dreamers have added to our small but flourishing community. I have been honored to partner with community leaders and elected officials to better serve my friends and neighbors. Elsewhere in Rome, my fellow Dreamers aspire to become health care professionals and social workers.

As Washington sits idle, the Georgia legislature should take action to promote Dreamers’ participation in our economy. Recently, I joined the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and legislative and community leaders to review the recent state legislative session and strategize for the next. The event included both Republican and Democratic state representatives and members of the media and public. Together, we discussed how we might pass legislation that will grow our economy and revitalize our rural regions. Many of us shared the understanding that immigrants, especially Dreamers, are essential to our state’s success.

I used my spot at the table to suggest two legislative proposals that will increase Dreamers’ participation in the workforce and ensure they continue to contribute to our success. First, state lawmakers should pass a law allowing Dreamers who grew up in Georgia to pay in-state tuition at our public schools. The current law against it almost prevented me — a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient and longtime Georgia resident — from pursuing my higher education and career here, as it does for many of Georgia’s 22,000 other DACA recipients. Each individual who leaves the state because they are not allowed to pursue higher education in Georgia takes their skills and talents with them, representing another loss for our seriously short-changed workforce. Like myself, these individuals just want to give back to Georgia.

Second, lawmakers should not support legislation that will put Dreamers’ driver’s licenses at risk. There is no practical purpose for stopping Dreamers who are already part of our workforce from safely traveling to and from their jobs, particularly in suburban and rural regions like Dalton and Rome where public transportation is not as readily accessible as in Atlanta. Keeping driver’s licenses accessible to the 4,000 DACA recipients in the region makes good economic sense and helps to stimulate local economies across throughout the state of Georgia. Lawmakers should focus on legislation that will improve rural Georgia’s transit, economic development and health care options, not legislation that will leave our economy behind.

My organization, along with others at a recent legislative session review, has started the conversation between Georgians, immigrants or otherwise, and state lawmakers to advocate for sensible policies that allow Georgia’s 22,000 DACA recipients to participate more fully in our state’s economy and local community life. Our efforts to gather a swath of stakeholders in one room and have honest conversations about immigration reform and Dreamers is evidence that partisan gridlock is the exception, not the rule. I am confident that we will inspire more Georgians to join us and show Washington how it is done.

Dalton resident Jaime Rangel is a Georgia state immigration associate for FWD.us.

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