Editor’s note: This post by Charles Kuck is published as part of Kuck Baxter’s annual sponsorship of Global Atlanta and was provided to the publication by New American Economy, which advocates for immigration policies that will drive economic growth.
As if Georgia didn’t have enough to worry about with coronavirus recovery, tens of thousands of state residents were nearly deported this month. Fortunately, the Supreme Court came down on the right side of history; last Thursday, the justices ruled President Trump cannot immediately end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which he has been trying to do since 2017. This is a huge win for Dreamers. It also helps ensure our state’s health care system and economy will rebound after the pandemic.
The relationship between saving DACA, which allows 660,000 young immigrants to live and work here legally, American health care and our state’s economy is simple: Nearly half of the country’s 1.2 million DACA-eligible residents work in a job that’s currently considered essential. Almost 62,000 work in our country’s healthcare system, according to New American Economy. At a moment when the country is facing severe healthcare shortages—which was true even before the pandemic—we can’t afford to lose a single nurse, home health aide or medical assistant. Here in Georgia, our 40,569 DACA-eligible residents are equally essential, working not just in healthcare but agriculture and food services. Even as cases of Covid-19 continue to climb, they continue showing up to work, pulling shifts alongside their American-born neighbors.
As an immigration attorney I’ve represented hundreds of Dreamers and seen how much potential, hope and grit these young people possess. Earlier this year, I helped Republican state legislator David Clark draft a bill that would allow Dreamers to pay in-state college tuition just like their Georgia-born peers. We believe in this bill, not just because it will help Dreamers, but because it will help Georgia. That was true in ordinary times, but it’s more crucial now as we look toward future healthcare and workforce challenges. Even before COVID-19, Georgia had 15.8 available healthcare workers for every unemployed worker, according to NAE. In STEM, there were 13.4 available jobs per one unemployed worker. Dreamers who pursue higher education gravitate toward both; 43 percent of those currently pursuing advanced degrees have an undergraduate STEM degree, while 46 percent have a healthcare-related degree.
As an immigration attorney I’ve represented hundreds of Dreamers and seen how much potential, hope, and grit these young people possess
In addition to filling these pre-existing workforce gaps, health care and STEM are also among the fields most likely to grow as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Those positions require additional training. Which is why ensuring more Dreamers can go to college is crucial for Georgia’s recession recovery. The faster we move to train these potential workers, the more money they— and the companies that hire them—will have to spend, and the faster the economy will rebound.
According to NAE, access to college could increase Dreamers’ earning potential by an additional $36.1 million annually. That would inject an additional $8.5 million for state, local and federal taxes, leaving Dreamers with $27.6 million in spending power to invest locally. Nearly 20 states, including Virginia, Florida, Texas and Kansas, have already passed similar bills. Since Texas became the first state to take action in 2001, beneficiaries earned $19.7 billion more than they would have without a college degree, which has created an additional $17 billion in economic activity for the state.
Of course, all of this potential—both human and monetary—will be lost if Congress doesn’t act to ensure a permanent solution for Dreamers. While those who continue to be enrolled in the program are protected for the foreseeable future, the Trump Administration could take a new case to the courts. We can’t let that happen. These young people ended up here through no choice of their own. Because of their immigration status, not all of them have been able to achieve as much as they’re capable of. But even 80 percent of Republican voters agree it’s time to right that wrong. Let’s clear a path to legal status for Dreamers. And, let’s make sure they can receive tuition equity, which will remove barriers to them—and our state’s—success, and benefits us all.
Charles H. Kuck is an adjunct law professor at Emory University and managing partner at Kuck Baxter Immigration LLC in Atlanta, which is a sponsor of Global Atlanta’s immigration coverage.