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Immigration policy determines who may become a new citizen of the United States or enter the country as a temporary worker, student, refugee, or permanent resident. The federal government is responsible for setting and enforcing most immigration policy.
Meanwhile, states assume a largely supportive role, enacting their own supplementary laws and setting policies that may, for example, determine which public services immigrants can access, establish employee screening requirements, or guide the interaction between related state agencies and their federal counterparts.
Some jurisdictions, including some states, cities, and counties, have adopted policies of not cooperating with federal immigration enforcement; these jurisdictions have become known as sanctuary jurisdictions.
Note: This page provides data from the American Community Survey (ACS), conducted annually by the United States Census Bureau, on demographics, economic factors, and social factors for the native, naturalized, and non-citizen populations. The ACS refers to immigrants, both naturalized citizens and non-citizens, as the “foreign-born population.” The ACS defines those labeled as “non-citizens” as “respondents who indicated that they were not U.S. citizens at the time of the survey.” The term “non-citizens” does not distinguish between those who are residing in the country with or without legal permission.
Major immigration issues vary from state to state depending on geography, demographics, and politics. They include the economic and social impact of non-citizens on a state’s population and economy; how the state treats non-citizens with regard to providing education and other public services; the impact of non-citizens on crime; and the enforcement of immigration and employment laws.
See also: Admission of refugees
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 65.3 million people worldwide were displaced or fled their homes during 2015, primarily due to war and persecution. This was the highest number of displaced people and refugees that the organization had recorded in its history. An October 2015 article in The New York Times labeled the situation a mass migration crisis, which led to calls for the United States and Europe to help the refugees find homes in more stable societies. This prompted debate about whether states can reject resettlement of refugees once the federal government agrees to allow the refugees to come to the United States.
The Refugee Act of 1980 authorized the president to admit refugees who face “persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,” especially if it involves an “unforeseen emergency refugee situation.” Federal authority over immigration law was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2012 decision, Arizona v. United States.
The state officials responsible for refugee resettlement may attempt to slow the process or make their state unattractive for refugees. According to Kathleen Newland, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, “States do have a role in the refugee resettlement process post admission, and it would certainly be possible for them to obstruct the resettlement process.” Jack Chin, a professor at the University of California Davis School of Law, agrees:
|“||My suspicion is that if a state was firmly opposed to having Syrian refugees in their borders then as an initial matter, the government might choose to put them somewhere else.||”|
|—Prof. Jack Chin, UC Davis School of Law|
See also: U.S. governors and their responses to Syrian refugees
Between 2011, when armed conflict in the Syrian civil war began, and 2016, the United Nations estimated that more than 12 million people (including more than 5 million children) within the country were displaced. At least four million of those individuals left Syria to seek refuge in the Middle East and Europe. Prior to September 2015, fewer than 2,000 Syrians had been accepted for resettlement in the United States since 2011. In September 2015, the Obama administration offered to take in as many as 10,000 Syrian refugees over the following year. In November 2015, governors in 31 states released statements opposing refugee resettlement in their states. Governors in 15 other states released statements of support for refugee resettlement.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R) opposed resettling an increased number of Syrian refugees. In a November 2015 statement, Deal said, “We think it’s appropriate for us to take care of our people here in Georgia.” Governor Deal also requested confirmation of the backgrounds of 59 Syrian refugees who had already resettled in Georgia.
While certain cities, counties, and states carry the label of sanctuary jurisdiction, its definition and which factors prompt the designation are disputed:
|“||A number of states and municipalities have adopted formal or informal policies which prohibit or substantially restrict police cooperation with federal immigration enforcement efforts. Entities that have adopted such policies are sometimes referred to as “sanctuary” jurisdictions, though there is not necessarily a consensus as to the meaning of this term.||”|
|—Congressional Research Service|
Clayton County, Georgia, Courthouse
According to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a self-described low-immigration, pro-immigrant 501(c)(3) nonprofit advocacy group, as of September 2015, around 300 jurisdictions had been identified by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as having sanctuary policies. Examples of such policies include restricting local law enforcement from arresting individuals who violate federal immigration law, limiting the information that can be shared with federal immigration authorities, or prohibiting law enforcement inquiries into a person’s immigration status.
CIS keeps track of and maps the location of the sanctuary jurisdictions identified by ICE. According to CIS, Clayton County was a sanctuary jurisdiction in Georgia as of October 2016.
The effect of sanctuary policies on communities is debated. CIS has called sanctuary jurisdictions “a significant public safety problem throughout the country.” On the other hand, Michael Pearson, writing for CNN.com in July 2016, argued in favor of sanctuary jurisdictions, contending that they encourage “members of immigrant communities to work with police without fear of deportation.” Pearson also claimed that “such policies help authorities improve public safety by helping authorities identify and arrest dangerous criminals who might otherwise go undetected.”
The partial fence that exists as a physical barrier along the border between the United States and Mexico, which Donald Trump (R) argued should be a high wall during his 2016 presidential campaign, is a contentious policy question. Supporters of border fencing argue that it helps deter those who seek to enter the United States unlawfully, including terrorists, drug smugglers, and those engaged in human trafficking. Those opposed to the fence question its efficacy as a deterrent, arguing that individuals may still cross over the fence, cut through, or cross in a different location.
The extent to which non-citizen immigrants ought to be able to access public services, including healthcare programs, in-state tuition at state universities, and driver’s licenses, is debated. The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) argues that due to lower levels of education, both naturalized and non-citizen immigrants cost more in public services than they pay in taxes, “creating a net fiscal deficit” on federal, state, and local government budgets. On the other hand, the Cato Institute argues that, partially due to eligibility barriers, both naturalized and non-citizen immigrants use fewer public services than native residents; when immigrants do use services, Cato found, it is at a lower average cost than native residents.
According to the Medicaid website, 32 states allowed lawfully residing immigrant children or pregnant women to enroll in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as of October 2016. Georgia did not allow lawfully residing immigrants to enroll in Medicaid or CHIP. While those services are also unavailable to individuals residing in the country without legal permission, many receive care at emergency rooms and federally qualified health centers that receive government funding and do not check citizenship status.
As of October 2016, 20 states offered in-state tuition to individuals residing in the country without legal permission. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, these states “typically require attendance and graduation at state high schools, acceptance at a state college or university, and promising to apply for legal status as soon as eligible.” Six states barred non-citizens or individuals residing in the country without legal permission from accessing in-state tuition; the remainder of states had established no formal policy on the matter. Georgia enacted legislation in 2008 barring access to in-state tuition for individuals residing in the country without legal permission.
The debate surrounding driver’s licenses for individuals residing in the country without legal permission typically focuses on public safety. Some, like The Boston Globe editorial board and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy (D), have argued that allowing these individuals to obtain driver’s licenses enhances public safety by making sure they know the rules of the road and are driving insured vehicles. Others, like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) and CIS, have argued that it legitimizes illegal immigration and jeopardizes public safety and national security by providing individuals residing in the country without legal permission with “the single most important piece of homeland security information.” Beyond allowing one to drive legally in a state, a driver’s license serves as a primary form of identification and can facilitate business transactions, like opening bank accounts, for individuals residing in the country without legal permission. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of July 2015, “twelve states and the District of Columbia [had] enacted laws to allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.” At that time, Georgia did not issue driver’s licenses to individuals residing in the country without legal permission.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) oversees the E-Verify program for the United States. According to the USCIS website, “E-Verify is an Internet-based system that compares information from an employee’s Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility.” The internet-based system is designed to determine quickly whether new workers are eligible to work in the United States. In Georgia, most employers were required to use the E-Verify system when hiring workers as of October 2016.
Some have criticized the E-Verify system as a breach of privacy. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published a white paper arguing that E-Verify created “a whole new level of intrusive government oversight of daily life” that would “hurt ordinary people.” Moreover, according to the ACLU, the system “could mean undue obstacles to employment for hundreds of thousands of citizens” and “the scope of private information housed in the system will create enormous privacy and security risks.” On the other side, NumbersUSA, a self-described immigration-reduction organization, wrote in favor of E-Verify that the system protects employers from liability for employing individuals residing in the country without legal permission and that requiring all businesses to use the system would “create a level playing field” and reduce competition workers face from those from other countries.
Whether non-citizens affect the crime rate of a state has been studied, but the findings have been inconclusive so far. According to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), “there is very little conclusive data to inform the well-entrenched views on both sides of the debate” over whether immigrants commit more or less crime than native-born citizens. A CIS report published in 2009 “reviewed the major academic and government reports on the topic and found that these studies lead to contrary conclusions about immigration and crime.” Some show that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born citizens and others show the reverse. More data and more sophisticated methodology might shed more light on the subject in coming years.
Many groups seek to determine the economic costs and benefits that immigration brings to states and the United States as a whole. Some groups estimate that immigrants are a net gain to the economy because of the goods and services they provide while others claim that immigrants impose a net burden to the state by using healthcare, education, or welfare services.
In 2013, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a nonprofit that according to its website aims to “reduce overall immigration to a level that is more manageable,” published a report examining the fiscal impact of illegal immigration on federal, state, and local budgets. According to the FAIR report, the federal government spent $29 billion providing various services for individuals residing in the country without legal permission in 2010, while state and local governments spent $84 billion. For Georgia, the report estimated that the state and local governments spent $2.4 billion on services for individuals residing in the country without legal permission. The services included in the analysis ranged from K-12 education to university education, criminal justice services, and Medicaid. The FAIR report concluded that the tax receipts collected from individuals residing in the country without legal permission did not reach the level of state expenditures.
Conversely, the Cato Institute published a working paper discussing the fiscal impact of immigration in 2014. The paper concluded that it is “difficult to predict the impact of immigration on government budgets currently or in the future.” However, based on their research, they found “a very small net fiscal impact clustered around zero.” The paper suggested that while the fiscal impact of immigration could be negative, the overall economic benefits are unambiguous and large.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, research organization that focuses on tax policy issues at the local, state, and federal levels. ITEP published a report in February 2016 specifically describing the tax situation of individuals residing in the country without legal permission across the United States. The report stated that “undocumented immigrants living in the United States pay billions of dollars each year in state and local taxes” and that “these tax contributions would increase significantly if all undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States were granted a pathway to citizenship.”
The impact immigration has on the national and state economies is also debated by policy analysts and scholars. Some, like Shikha Dalmia of the Reason Foundation, argue that “open immigration would be a huge economic boon for immigrants in relatively less well-off countries” and “open borders would double world GDP [gross domestic product] in a few decades, virtually eliminating global poverty.” Others, like George Borjas of Harvard University, say that immigration has a mixed impact on the American economy. Borjas states that “the influx of immigrants can potentially be a net good for the nation, increasing the total wealth of the population,” but that “not everyone benefits when immigrants arrive” and immigrants “receive government assistance at higher rates than the native-born.”
While additional debate takes place over the effect that immigration has on income and unemployment rates, more research is required to establish a definitive account on how it relates to those economic factors. One can, however, compare median income and unemployment among the states.
To compare these statistics across all 50 states, see also: State demographics by citizenship status
Immigration can impact a variety of public policy areas, including national security, criminal justice, budgets, education, healthcare, and elections. Immigration can also change the demographics of a country. The following demographic information helps provide a picture of immigration in Georgia and some of its neighboring states by showing how many immigrants live in Georgia, their racial and ethnic breakdown, and the relative age and sex of the native, naturalized, and non-citizen populations of the state.
Number of immigrants
In 2014, Georgia’s population amounted to 9.9 million. About 90.3 percent of Georgia residents were native-born citizens; 3.8 percent of residents were naturalized citizens and 6 percent were non-citizens. See the chart and table below for further details.
Hover over the bars to view the data points. Click [show] on the teal bar below to view the corresponding table.
|Citizenship status of residents, 2014|
|Source: United States Census Bureau, “Selected Characteristics of the Native and Foreign-Born Populations”|
Race and ethnicity
The United States Census Bureau treats Hispanic ethnicity and racial identity as distinct categories that can overlap. Its definition of Hispanic ethnicity comes from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, which “defines ‘Hispanic or Latino’ as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.” Meanwhile, “[a]n individual’s response to the race question is based upon self-identification,” according to the United States Census Bureau.
In 2014, about 60.4 percent of Georgia residents were white while nearly 40 percent were black. Among non-citizens, about 44.4 percent were white while 55.8 percent identified as being of Hispanic descent. About one-third of naturalized citizens and one-fifth of non-citizens identified as Asian.
|Race and ethnicity of Georgia residents, 2014|
|Category||White||Hispanic or Latino (of any race)||Black or African American||American Indian and Alaska Native||Asian||Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander||Other|
|Source: United States Census Bureau, “Selected Characteristics of the Native and Foreign-Born Populations”
Note: Hispanic or Latino ethnicity includes individuals of any race; as such, percentages do not add up to 100 percent.
Age and sex
In 2014, 25 percent of all Georgia residents were children under the age of 18; 63 percent were between the ages of 18 and 64. The portion of non-citizens between ages 18 and 64 was 87 percent; meanwhile, the portion of native citizens between ages 18 and 64 was 61 percent. See the table below for further details.
|Age and sex of Georgia residents, 2014|
|Category||Children 0-17||Adults 18-64||65+||Male||Female|
|Source: United States Census Bureau, “Age and Sex”|
While the effects of immigration on a state’s economy are unclear, immigration can impact the composition of a state’s workforce. The following economic information provides details about how immigrants live in Georgia and some of its neighboring states. The following graph and charts show the poverty and employment rates for different populations.
See also: State poverty rates by citizenship status
In 2014, the poverty level was $11,670 for an individual and $23,850 for a family of four. Georgia’s poverty rate during 2014 was 14.2 percent. Among native-born citizens, 13.3 percent lived below the poverty line, compared to 30.4 percent of non-citizens. See the table below for further details.
Hover over the bars to view the data points. Click [show] on the teal bar below to view the corresponding table.
See also: State employment rates by citizenship status
The unemployment rate refers to the percentage of a state’s population that is jobless but seeking a job; this figure excludes individuals who are not in the labor force or are not seeking work. In 2014, Georgia’s total unemployment rate was 6.7 percent; 55.9 percent of residents were employed and 36.7 percent were not in the labor force. The unemployment rate among native citizens was 6.9 percent; among naturalized citizens, the unemployment rate was 5.3 percent. Meanwhile, 6.2 percent of non-citizens were unemployed.
In addition to demographics and economic indicators, immigration can impact the social make-up of a state’s population, especially regarding such factors as marriage, education, and language.
See also: State marriage rates by citizenship status
Zhenchao Qian, a sociology professor at Ohio State University, concluded in a paper from September 2013 that “immigrants regardless of educational attainment and race/ethnicity tend to be married at a higher percent, cohabit at a lower percent (except for Hispanic immigrants), divorce at a lower percent, and remarry at a lower percent compared with their U.S.-born counterparts.”
In 2014, 47.2 percent of all Georgia residents were married; 13.9 percent were separated or divorced. The marriage rate among native citizens was 45.7 percent; among naturalized citizens, the marriage rate was 65.3 percent. Meanwhile, 55.1 percent of non-citizens were married. See the table below for further details.
The table below provides details about household characteristics broken down by population type.
See also: State educational attainment rates by citizenship status
According to an October 2015 report from the Pew Research Center (PRC), recent immigrants to the United States are the most highly educated in history. More immigrants coming to the United States in 2013 had completed bachelor’s degrees than in 1970 (41 percent compared to 20 percent, respectively). PRC also noted that 23 percent of new immigrants in 2013 had not completed high school, while in 1970 half of new arrivals had not completed high school. The level of education immigrants have achieved before coming to the United States helps determine where they will fit into the labor force.
The bar chart and table below provide details about educational attainment broken down by population type (i.e., native population, naturalized population, and non-citizen population).
Hover over the bars to view the data points. Click [show] on the teal bar below to view the corresponding table.
Conor Williams, founding director of New America’s Dual Language Learners National Work Group, wrote in December 2015 that language barriers and education are major issues for immigration policy. Because many of the children of immigrants are citizens, “English language learners are one of the fastest growing groups in American schools” and “many schools are struggling to update their instructional models to support these students’ linguistic and academic development.” The traditional model of schooling—where everyone receives the same education—may be impacted when a substantial percentage of students speak a language other than English at home.
The table below provides details about the languages spoken in homes in Georgia broken down by population type (i.e., native, naturalized, and non-citizen populations). Figures from select surrounding states are provided for comparison.
States do not have primary responsibility for immigration policy in the United States because the power to establish a uniform rule of naturalization is granted to Congress in Article I of the United States Constitution. The following sections provide information about state-level immigration policy-making in addition to providing an overview of developments in immigration policy happening at the federal level.
In Georgia, the Refugee Resettlement Program provides services to refugees by coordinating public and private resources. Services provided include instruction for English-language learners, employment services, health screenings and medical assistance, and other social services. According to its website, “[t]he primary goal of Georgia’s Refugee Resettlement Program is to encourage effective resettlement and economic self-sufficiency of refugees after entrance to Georgia.”
In addition, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has a field office in Atlanta, Georgia. The office processes legal immigration applications, conducts applicant interviews, and provides other limited customer services.
Recent state legislation
The following is a list of recent immigration policy bills that have been introduced in or passed by the Georgia state legislature. To learn more about each of these bills, click the bill title. This information is provided by BillTrack50 and LegiScan.
Note: Due to the nature of the sorting process used to generate this list, some results may not be relevant to the topic. If no bills are displayed below, then no legislation pertaining to this topic has been introduced in the legislature recently.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) published a report on state immigration laws in 2016. The NCSL calculated that 41 percent of all measures adopted across the United States that were related to immigration policy were resolutions. Resolutions are often legislative expressions of celebration or commemoration. For instance, in Texas, SR 128 was a celebratory resolution recognizing February 15 through 21 as National League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Week.
See also: Immigration on the ballot and List of Georgia ballot measures
Ballotpedia has tracked no ballot measures relating to immigration matters in Georgia
Major legislation and actions
See also: Federal policy on DACA and DAPA, 2017-2020 and Title 8 of the United States Code
- DAPA (2014): DAPA—which stands for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents—was intended to provide deportation relief to parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (Green Card holders). DAPA was challenged in court by 26 states and placed on hold by a preliminary injunction. The policy was never implemented and was formally rescinded by former Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly in June 2017. Read more.
- DACA (2012): DACA—which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—was a policy that provided temporary relief from deportation for individuals who had been brought without legal permission to the United States as children. It was established via an administrative memo during the Obama administration in June 2012 and rescinded by the Trump administration in September 2017. Read more.
- Immigration Act of 1990: The Immigration Act of 1990 increased annual limits on immigration to the United States, revised visa category limits to increase skilled labor immigration, and expanded and revised the grounds for removal and inadmissability. The law also created the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program as well as four new categories of nonimmigrant (temporary worker) visas. Read more.
- Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) (1986): IRCA made it illegal for employers to knowingly hire individuals unauthorized to work in the United States and established a system for verifying the legal status of employees. The law also granted legal status, sometimes referred to as amnesty, to individuals who were at that time residing in the United States without legal permission and who met certain conditions. Read more.
- Immigration and Naturalization Act (1965): The Immigration and Naturalization Act eliminated the national origins quota system, which had limited immigration from foreign countries based on nationality. The law also established a system of family and employment preferences for individuals applying to immigrate to the United States. Read more.
- Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) (1952): The INA comprises the foundation of Title 8 of the United States Code, the canon of federal law relating to immigration policy. The law amended the national origin quota system that existed at the time and also granted the President of the United States the authority to “suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.” Read more
The following terms may be used in discussions of immigration policy:
- Native-born citizen refers to anyone born in the United States, Puerto Rico, or a United States territory or born abroad to citizen parents.
- The foreign-born population refers to “anyone who is not a U.S. citizen at birth,” including naturalized citizens.
- Naturalized citizen refers to anyone born as a citizen of another country who fulfilled the requirements to become a United States citizen.
- Non-citizen refers to anyone residing in the United States who is not a citizen. According to the United States Census Bureau, “[n]oncitizens include legal permanent residents, temporary migrants, unauthorized immigrants and other resident statuses.” The census bureau does not distinguish between the legal status of non-citizens.
- Permanent resident, or Green Card holder, refers to anyone who is not a citizen who is legally authorized to “live and work in the United States on a permanent basis.” Permanent residents receive documentation, commonly referred to as a Green Card, as proof of their status.
- Visas may be obtained either by immigrants for permanent residence or employment or by nonimmigrants for business or tourism. Individuals immigrating to the United States generally must be sponsored by a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or prospective employer to obtain a visa. Immigrants must first obtain a visa before being considered eligible for a Green Card and permanent resident status.
- Illegal immigration refers to the practice of entering the country in violation of federal law, including entering without legal permission or through the use of falsified or expired documents. Individuals considered to be residing in the country illegally can also include those whose paperwork has expired or who are in deportation proceedings.
The link below is to the most recent stories in a Google news search for the terms Georgia immigration. These results are automatically generated from Google. Ballotpedia does not curate or endorse these articles.
Immigration in the 50 states
Click on a state below to read more about immigration in that state.
Choose your state…AlabamaAlaskaArizonaArkansasCaliforniaColoradoConnecticutDelawareFloridaGeorgiaHawaiiIdahoIllinoisIndianaIowaKansasKentuckyLouisianaMaineMarylandMassachusettsMichiganMinnesotaMississippiMissouriMontanaNebraskaNevadaNew HampshireNew JerseyNew MexicoNew YorkNorth CarolinaNorth DakotaOhioOklahomaOregonPennsylvaniaRhode IslandSouth CarolinaSouth DakotaTennesseeTexasUtahVermontVirginiaWashingtonWashington, D.C.West VirginiaWisconsinWyoming
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- Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributable to the original source.
- Yahoo News, “Can governors legally reject Syrian refugees?” November 16, 2015
- The Washington Post, “Obama Increases Number of Syrian Refugees for U.S. Resettlement to 10,000,” September 10, 2015
- The Washington Post, “3 important facts about how the U.S. resettles Syrian refugees,” November 17, 2015
- BBC “Syria: The story of the conflict,” October 9, 2015
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