Last week the National Immigration Forum hosted a South East Summit in Atlanta, Georgia to discuss the true cost of immigration reform on the southeastern regional economy. The organization hosted delegates from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee to assess the consequences of anti-immigration legislation in the region and to discuss the importance of immigrants and immigration to the region’s economic and cultural vitality. This discussion comes as these states prepare for the local repercussions of the Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s SB 1070 law.
Diverse stakeholders contributed their perspectives, including business owners, law enforcement officials, government officials, and faith leaders. Among the delegates was the Bishop H Julian Gordy, bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishop’s immigration task force. In this position, Bishop Gordy has been a leader in LIRS’s work against state-based anti-immigration legislation along with a growing constituency of concerned citizens taking action.
Key speakers from around the country highlighted the economic and cultural effects of Arizona-type legislation on the region specifically highlighting the aftermath as experienced by business-owners, farmers and citizens on the ground. Among the speakers were local representatives explaining the unique obstacles that the region faces with such legislation.
- Larry Wooten of the North Carolina Farm Bureau noted that farms in the South rely on guest laborers more than other regions because they generally harvest more labor intensive crops and cannot operate otherwise.
- Karen Bremer of the Georgia Restaurant Association noted that state anti-immigration laws aiming to preserve jobs for Americans are missing the mark and not producing the intended results. According to Bremer, the Georgia Restaurant Association’s ‘help wanted’ efforts following the Georgia immigration legislation netted a total of only two calls, even though Georgia has an 8% unemployment rate. Bremer and others cited studies and similar experiences to show that immigrants do not take jobs from citizens.
After the conference, Bishop Gordy offered these final reflections:
It was clear that we who believe we are called to work for immigration reform because we are called to ‘love the immigrant in our land’ had much more in common with reasonable business and law enforcement interests than I had thought. I left the meeting feeling more positive than I have in a long time that we could build a broader coalition of people who can work together to encourage Congress to enact comprehensive, humane, reasonable, federal immigration reform.