Georgia’s sizable immigrant population greatly contributes to the state’s social and economic prosperity. Ten percent of the state’s population was born in another country, and 1 in 13 Georgians is a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent. Foreign-born residents comprise 40% of such agricultural occupations as foresters, fishers, and farmers in Georgia and 25% of math and computer science jobs .
Immigrants, regardless of citizenship status, actively participate in the state’s economy by starting businesses, buying homes, earning wages, spending disposable income at local businesses and paying millions of dollars in taxes . Often, immigrants distribute just as much, and sometimes more, in tax payments. As of 2014, $4.7 billion in federal taxes and $2.2 billion in state and local taxes came from immigrant-led households . Undocumented citizens contributed about $351.7 million in state and local taxes in Georgia. Those who are DACA recipients contributed an estimated $71.1 million in state and local taxes as of 2016, in the state of Georgia. Immigrants, including undocumented people, add wealth and opportunity to the state, but, unfortunately, they are still faced with adversities regarding fair and equal access to higher public education.
Unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, often referred to as “Dreamers,” are set back in Georgia due to the lack of action to equalized tuition rates. Those students currently pay out-of-state tuition, which is at least three times higher than the in-state tuition costs at University System of Georgia institutions. However, there are two bills that have been introduced and a third in the works expected to allow “Dreamers” to pay in-state tuition .
House Bill 896 is considered one of the “Dreamers” bills that would alter the tuition restrictions in Georgia. Students must be enrolled at a Georgia high school for at least three years, have filed paperwork seeking legal immigration status, and have a high school diploma or GED . Mainly, the bill demonstrates more inclusivity by changing up the language that only allows U.S. born students to get in-state tuition.
House Bill 920 is another “Dreamers” bill that provides students, including but not limited to students who are undocumented for federal immigration purposes, to be eligible for waivers of out-of-state tuition and fees .
Lastly, House Bill 997 shares the primary goal that would expand in-state tuition access to “Dreamers” who have grown up in Georgia and have graduated from the state’s high schools or passed a high school general equivalency exam. Such a bill could increase state and local taxes by $3.4 million and add $27.6 million in spending power .
Research shows that extending in-state tuition, regardless of immigration status, would only benefit Georgia’s economy . The job market is beginning to demand individuals who have a higher education to fulfill open job positions. With Georgia’s unemployment rate at a record low 3.2%, businesses across the state face labor shortages that limit their ability to grow and compete. Making college tuition affordable to “Dreamers” would increase the talent pool of qualified, educated workers in the state . The aforementioned bills have the potential to improve not only the state’s economy, but the lives of undocumented Georgians as well.
written by: Jalise Black