Oct 21, 2021 - Politics

Georgia's immigrant voices speak up during redistricting

Illustration of a slide puzzle, with the state of Georgia broken up into red and blue tiles.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

In two weeks, Georgia lawmakers will meet to redraw the state and congressional political maps that decide who will wield power for the next 10 years.

And activists are rallying Georgia’s diverse immigrant communities to make sure they're adequately represented when the ink dries.

Why it matters: Today, roughly one in every 10 Georgians is foreign-born. Asians make up 4% of Georgia’s population, up from half a percent in 1980. Over the next three decades, the Latino population is expected to grow by 1.2 million, according to a 2018 study by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

  • Put simply, Georgia’s immigrant populations are a vital part of the state’s economy, culture, and political power.

Context: Every 10 years, state lawmakers use the latest census data to start the redistricting process — the “most political activity in America,” in the words of Charles Bullock, the longtime University of Georgia political science professor who literally wrote a book on the subject.

  • GOP lawmakers want to stem the blue tide that washed over the north metro area in 2016 and 2020 by gerrymandering districts in their favor.
  • That strategy could affect areas like Cobb and Gwinnett counties, and along Buford Highway, where a significant number of voters and residents are foreign-born or first-generation immigrants. The tactic could also impact Gwinnett County, where 26 percent of the population is foreign-born.

Who’s involved: The Georgia Immigration Rights Alliance and its partners like the Georgia Redistricting Alliance, the Latino Community Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and other groups. They have conducted outreach in the Cobb and Gwinnett Counties, Savannah, Clarkston and other cities with large immigrant populations, plus attended hearings and led text and phone banking.

  • Fair Count, a spin off organization of Stacey Abrams' Fair Fight, is helping the initiative, including providing tools to help underserved communities draw their own districts to present to lawmakers.
  • Women Watch Afrika — an advocacy group whose members come from Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and 20 other nations — hosts a twice-weekly radio show to educate listeners in Clarkston, one of the most diverse cities in the country and a hub for refugee resettlement, about the importance of redistricting.

The effects: Victoria Huynh of the Center for Pan Asian Community Services recalled during a recent webinar growing up near Buford Highway, which was split among four different representative districts, making it difficult to participate in government and hold elected officials accountable.

  • She also rode a bus 20 minutes to school, although another school, with a magnet program, just five minutes away was outside her district.

The push: Advocates are demanding that so-called communities of interest are taken into account when lawmakers redraw lines, and that redistricting information is provided in other languages in addition to English. Of Georgia’s 11 million people, roughly 15% speak a language other than English at home.

  • “Redistricting is alien to my community,” Glory Kilanko of Women Watch Afrika tells Axios. “We don't have a definition for redistricting in our languages.”
  • During the census, the group educated community members about how the count affects the allocation of funding for housing, services and schools, and are now helping them understand how redistricting is a key part of that process.

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