New Americans celebration 2024

The New Americans Celebration (NAC) is almost here! Every year, the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies (CRSA) and over 500 refugees and immigrants come together on (or near) Valentine’s Day to advocate for legislation that directly benefits their communities and to remind everyone that Georgia Loves Refugees!

The NAC is entering its twelfth year of making a difference in Georgia. In 2012, several worrisome bills were proposed before the Georgia State legislature. Lawmakers introduced harmful legislation that ranged from a complete moratorium on refugee resettlement in Georgia to issuing distinctive IDs and driver’s licenses to non-citizens, the latter of which is particularly harmful to DACA recipients. As Georgia had recently passed HB87, (which allowed local law enforcement to attempt to enforce federal immigration law by permitting them to check immigration documents, and criminalized assisting and transporting non-citizens), seven refugee service agencies came together to try to figure out how to best combat this kind of bill. The CRSA grew out of these concerns and held the first New Americans Celebration that very year.

The New Americans Celebration’s purpose is to provide an opportunity for Georgia residents with refugee and immigrant backgrounds to meet their elected officials to talk with them about issues that affect their daily lives. It demystifies the political process for participants, while making them and their communities visible to lawmakers. The first New Americans Celebration saw fewer than 100 participants and was mainly focused on civic education for participants and educating lawmakers on the basics of the immigration situation in Georgia. A few lawmakers were surprised to learn that there were refugees resettled in Georgia. Others were shocked to learn that they had constituents who were from refugee or immigrant backgrounds. Over the years, some of those same lawmakers who were unaware of the issues facing the immigrant community have become supporters of pro-immigrant legislation.

Where the New Americans Celebration was initially begun to fight against anti-immigrant and anti-refugee laws, it now focuses on advocating for positive legislation. While there is not a great deal of blatantly anti-immigrant legislation up for discussion this session, communities still face barriers to success, such as little or no access to: in-state university tuition, equal employment, housing and lending services, and affordable medical care. Many people who enter the United States with professional licensing are unable to be re-licensed without significant barriers, and like most families in the United States, immigrant and refugee families struggle to find and pay for adequate childcare. Legislation removing barriers to education, employment, childcare, medical care, and affordable housing is at the top of CRSA’s policy priorities for the coming year.

This year, CRSA will focus on continuing to support SB264, which would offer in-state tuition to refugees, asylees, and certain humanitarian parolees upon entry rather than forcing them to wait a year, which dramatically interrupts the course of a person’s education. CRSA also supports HB134, which is an in-state tuition bill specifically for DACA recipients. The NAC will also ask lawmakers to keep workforce development in mind, as there are plans to support bills around medical licensing reform next year.

The New Americans Celebration is a wonderful opportunity to uplift refugee and immigrant voices to ensure that Georgia remains a welcoming home for everyone.

Please join us on February 13th!

To sign up as a participant, please register here

To sign up to volunteer, please register here

Written by Whitney Kweskin, Sr. Manager of Citizenship and Civic Engagement