Immigration has been a hot-button issue during this year's session of the Georgia General Assembly, but until now there has been no definitive study of its impact on the state.
Augusta State University hopes to change that.
Using money directed its way by a federal judge, ASU has established its Center for Immigration Studies, said Dr. Samuel Sullivan, the vice president for academic affairs.
"We're hoping this will grow into real prominence for the university and Augusta," Dr. Sullivan said.
The center will hold lectures and panel discussions, and will conduct research, said Dr. Paul Harris, the center's director and associate professor of political science.
"This is the crux of the situation: Georgia is officially an immigration state," said Dr. Harris, who is known as an expert on the subject. "As of yet, there has been no formal study of this group."
The center is being funded through money directed its way by U.S. District Judge Anthony A. Alaimo, but university officials are working to establish an endowment so that the $100,000 gift will serve as "seed" money, Dr. Sullivan said.
Judge Alaimo, an immigrant from Italy, said the funding given to ASU was left over from a class action suit settlement.
"It's a positive thing," he said of ASU's use of the money. "I think it's excellent."
Judge Alaimo recalled growing up in a home where Italian was spoken and assimilating to life in America. He is a senior federal judge in the Southern District, which he has served since 1971.
Georgia has become a primary destination for immigrants since the early 1990s, Dr. Harris said. The influx has resulted in an immigrant population of about 700,000 people, 7 percent of the state's population.
Immigration is evident in Augusta by the presence of at least two Spanish language newspapers, a Chinese herbal medicine store, two Hindu temples, a Sikh temple, a mosque and Korean Christian congregations.
Studies have been conducted on the economic impact of immigration in Georgia, but no such studies have been done on the other societal impacts, Dr. Harris said.
"Our purpose is really to begin a systematic study of this group," he said.
Politicians will be able to use the research in making policy, and the public and social groups will be able to use the information as well, Dr. Harris said.
The center will also serve as "bridge" to other universities. Augusta State already has formed a partnership with the University of Muenster Institute for Immigration Studies in Germany.
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.