Atlanta Holds First Regional Immigration Summit

Southeastern states recently held an immigration summit to discuss how national and state-level immigration regulations are affecting the region.

The Atlanta summit, “Forging a New Consensus on Immigrants in America,” took place on June 11 and was attended by more than 150 individuals from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Although the summit only had representatives from one region of the United States, it aimed to address immigration issues on a national level.

“The immigration process is broken, and our immigration strategy is at best outdated and at worst ineffective,” former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said during the summit. “Achieving the right immigration policy is really hard because it impacts families, foreign policy, national security, the essence of who we are as a country.”

One of the primary regional industries that has been affected by current immigration laws is agriculture. H.B. 87, Georgia’s immigration law, has created major labor shortages impacting the state’s $69 billion agriculture industry. In 2011, the state experienced labor shortages of 40 percent when compared to individual numbers of agricultural laborers from previous years.

In addition to examining timely issues related to immigration, the summit also looked at how historical racial tensions may have factored into current legislation and immigration services. The Southeast has seen a surge in immigration related legislation in recent years, and experts at the summit said passage of these laws has corresponded with an influx of immigrants to the region. Because of this, the Southeast has driven much of the national debate regarding immigration policy.

“The actual reason why states in Southeast are leading the way is because it’s changing,” Atlanta-based legal expert Charles Kuck said during the summit. “As a country, we love immigrants from the past, but we have never liked current immigrants.”