ATLANTA -- Today, the big question is can we find a solution to our nation's immigration problem, or do we shut our doors, close our eyes and wish the problem away?
The United States of America is a country founded by immigrants, shaped by the melting pot of our heritages, and molded through the events and ideas which unite us culturally. We are a beacon on the hill for those who desire a better life through hard work and perseverance. Turning our backs on our immigration population is not an option. We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice and insure domestic tranquility, must stand united.
The U.S. Census Bureau calculated Georgia's immigrant population in 2010 at almost a million, 450,000 of them were considered undocumented. From 2000 to 2010, our state's total immigrant population increased by more than 63 percent and the Federation for American Immigration Reform projects this population to increase to more than 15 million by 2050. The choice we have before us now is to decide what percentage of this future generation will be still be undocumented.
America's immigration system is broken. Immigrants who aspire to move to the United States are faced with miles of red tape, long waits and understaffed immigration offices who cannot handle the work load. From personal experience with my wife Sascha, I have seen the difficulties present in our immigration system.
Our country and state must provide a path to legalization and integration for this unrepresented constituency. Their voices count.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, immigrants comprised more than 13 percent of Georgia's workforce in 2010 and more than half of them were undocumented. A 2006 study by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute estimates an average undocumented family in Georgia contributes more than $2,000 in state and local sales, income and property taxes. Undocumented families that do not pay income taxes would have a sales and property tax contribution of more than $1,800.
By not integrating our immigrant population into society, Georgia is losing revenue and hindering the recovery our economy. People who are here illegally have violated the rules, but forcibly expatriating them is not the answer. Providing a way for them to redeem their debt to society is the best solution for both our legal residents and our undocumented migrants. By allowing them to work for their citizenship, we end the resource drain that illegal immigration has become.
Georgia must take note from our neighbors in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Durham, N.C., where governments are focusing on public safety, immigrant outreach, civic engagement and citizenship, and city services to integrate immigrants into the local community.
Undocumented immigration is not a state problem, it is a national problem. Immigrants have built this country brick by brick without a moment in the limelight. Let us not betray their trust but support them.
Sen. Curt Thompson serves as Chairman of the Special Judiciary Committee. He represents the 5th Senate District, which includes portions of Gwinnett County. He may be reached at 404-463-1318 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.