Tapia, executive director of the Brookhaven-based Latin American Association, talked about the issue Thursday at the Buckhead Business Association’s weekly breakfast meeting at City Club of Buckhead.
Two federal bills — Senate Bill 744 and House Resolution 15 — would bring comprehensive immigration reform. SB 744 was approved by the Senate 68-32 in June, and HR 15 was introduced to the House in October but has not been voted on yet.
“The biggest challenge that faces our community is the absence of comprehensive immigration reform being that it really impacts Latino families,” Tapia said. “We have families that are split up: parents from children, siblings, etc. It’s a national problem. Not only is it the right thing to do, but we need immigration reform on a national level.”
Tapia also said the bipartisan bills are not perfect but do address the issue as a whole. The Latin association is a nonprofit that helps Hispanics lead successful lives in America through employment, education and family programs. Founded in 1972, it is metro Atlanta’s oldest Latino service provider. Services include immigration legal services, family services, workforce development and youth programs.
“We have a 2-year-old baby from Honduras who is a client,” Tapia said. “His parents were killed in gang violence and the grandparents brought him here. He’s under deportation proceedings.
“We work with children’s parents very extensively [in Atlanta]. In Latin America you are not expected to get involved in your child’s education, but in America, it’s the opposite.”
Tapia also talked about the U.S. and Georgia Latino populations and their impact. According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Pew Hispanic Research Center, there are 52 million Latinos in the U.S., the largest and fastest growing minority in the country. Georgia has nearly one million Latinos, which make up 9 percent of its population. The Hispanic population is projected to reach 132.8 million by 2050.
“Growth is now due to births, not immigration,” Tapia said. “There’s a net zero population growth from Mexico. You cannot stereotype the Latino population.”
Business association member Mark Shaver asked why the number of undocumented workers crossing the border has decreased in recent years.
“The typical reason for people crossing the border is for work,” Tapia said. “The economy tanked so there are less jobs. If there is no employment, it is very difficult for immigrants to maintain their families. We saw families leave Georgia.”
She also said security at the U.S.-Mexico border has been increased and more than 40 percent of undocumented workers came to America legally through visas but overstayed their visas.