The Newnan Times-Herald

Opinion

Young immigrants are vital to Ga. workforce


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Feb. 17, 2017 - 5:01 AM

Potential harsher federal immigration policies under the new presidential administration pose special concern for young Georgians whose parents brought them to the United States as children.

A new federal crackdown threatens havoc for tens of thousands of young Georgians who now enjoy some limited legal protections which allow them to work, go to school and avoid deportation. In doing so, it could cause headaches for Georgia employers and deprive the state’s economy of thousands of productive, upwardly mobile workers.

An estimated 47,000 Georgians, most of them in their late teen years or 20s, are now enrolled or immediately eligible for a federal program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Created in 2012, DACA allows some undocumented immigrants brought here as children to live and work in the U.S. without threat of deportation.

Immigrant workers as a whole contribute substantially to Georgia’s economy, as shown by a December 2015 Georgia Budget and Policy Institute report. This likely holds doubly true for the group of Georgia immigrants covered under federal DACA protection.

Evidence indicates that young people protected from deportation by DACA are highly motivated, well-educated and employed in an array of occupations.

A recent, detailed, nationwide survey found about 87 percent of young immigrants receiving DACA are employed, compared to only 51 percent who worked before gaining status. Assuming those rates hold true in Georgia, then an estimated 24,400 young Georgians enrolled in DACA are likely already employed on legal payrolls.

Georgia’s economy will lose these workers if the new administration moves forward with deporting young immigrants brought to the U.S. outside their control as children. In contrast, fully implementing the DACA program or enhancing it with a gradual path to citizenship could add an additional 16,500 workers to the lawful workforce.

Georgia’s economy could suffer from a federal crackdown on young immigrants. Young Georgia immigrants either enrolled or immediately eligible for DACA now earn about an estimated $800 million a year in wages. Immigrant workers pump much of that money back into small businesses and local communities in the form of consumer spending, the same as native-born residents.

Georgia will lose that economic activity if the federal government moves forward with deportation. In turn, the state’s economy as a whole is likely to suffer. Deporting the 47,000 young Georgians either enrolled or immediately eligible for DACA could shrink the state’s economy by an estimated $1.7 billion a year.

Georgia can add an estimated 16,500 workers if DACA is either continued by the new administration or enhanced with a gradual path to citizenship, as long advocated by reform-minded members of both parties. Pursuing this constructive path provides lawful status to an estimated 9,724 Georgia workers who are likely already working off of legal payrolls. It could also entice an estimated 6,748 DACA-eligible Georgians who are not working to join the workforce.

(Wesley Tharpe is the research director at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, an Atlanta think tank focused on increased spending for social programs.)