Activists Push Comprehensive Immigration Reform
(APN) ATLANTA – A coalition of activists, led by the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) and Atlantans Building Leadership for Empowerment (ABLE), rallied Wednesday, January 20, 2010, at the Georgia state capitol to bring attention to the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
Advocates are pushing a Congressional bill sponsored by US Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-FL) called the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security And Prosperity Act of 2009 (HR 4321).
The sweeping legislation has four key aims: reducing visa backlogs that keep immigrant families apart; requiring illegal immigrants to pay a large fine before starting the legalization process; allowing immigrant students to continue with their education; and instituting worksite enforcement and worker protections.
“It’s pro-family, pro-jobs, and pro-security,” Gutierrez said of the bill in December. “And the time to pass it into law is right now.”
GALEO Executive Director Jerry Gonzalez said his group has met with Georgia’s Congressional delegation, and that in that meeting, GALEO expressed their support of the Gutierrez legislation.
“Latino voters are listening to the debate on immigration,” he said. “We will not tolerate the hateful language used in previous debates.”
Reform advocates point to a study, “Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Policy,” by Dr. Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, an Associate Professor of the University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies and the César E. Chávez Center For Interdisciplinary Instruction.
It argues that a reform package which includes a legalization program for illegal immigrants would stimulate the economy to the tune of 1.5 trillion dollars in US gross domestic product (GDP) growth over 10 years.
“The benefits of additional GDP growth would be spread broadly throughout the US economy, but immigrant-heavy sectors such as textiles, electronic equipment, and construction would see particularly large increases,” the report says.
Workers’ wages would also go up, according to the report, with less-skilled, newly legalized workers bringing home an extra $4,405 per year and higher-skilled workers bringing in an additional $6,185.
“Legalized workers invest more in their human capital, including education, job training, and English-language skills, making them even more productive workers and higher earners,” the report says.
The CATO Institute, using similar models, found in August 2009 that legalization would increase the incomes for US households by $180 billion and concluded that tighter restrictions and a decrease in the number of less-skilled immigrants would shrink the economy.
But Larry Pelligrini, Executive Director of the Georgia Rural Urban Summit, said the path to reform would not be easy.
“Our main challenge is public education,” he said. “We have to change hearts and minds.”
Pellegrini also noted the need to keep an eye on what State lawmakers are doing on the issue.
“It’s a state battle and it’s a federal battle,” he said. “We have to ensure people are not hurt here by State legislation before they are benefited by federal legislation.”
Gonzalez said SB 67, which would mandate driver’s license tests be administered in English only, narrowly failed in 2009. It could come back before the Georgia General Assembly this year.
“It’s a very bad bill economically,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a bill that says we want your money but we don’t want your people.”
The rally concluded eight days of events that included in-district meetings with lawmakers, a town hall meeting, and a prayer vigil all coordinated by organizations across Georgia.
“Immigration reform has been lingering too long,” Gonzalez said. “It’s not a matter of if comprehensive immigration reform will happen, it’s a matter of when. We expect reform to happen in 2010.”
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