Thousands of SC residents at risk of deportation as immigration protections hang in limbo

The State
July 7, 2022

Watch recording of entire forum

By Stephen Pastis

South Carolina advocates for immigration reform called on the state’s two Republican senators Wednesday to continue their support for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children as their protections against deportation hang in the balance.

“We look to South Carolina Sens. Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham to help lead the way in finding solutions for our ’Dreamers,’ their communities and their employers,” Yahel Flores, a program recipient and Carolinas state director of the American Business Immigration Coalition, said Wednesday.

The discussion — hosted on Zoom by the American Business Immigration Coalition and the National Immigration Forum — came in response to a pending 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program commonly referred to as DACA, that prevents deportation for thousands of immigrants brought into the U.S. as children.

The federal appeals court heard oral arguments Wednesday on the constitutionality of the program. The appeal comes after a Texas federal judge ruled in July 2021 that DACA was unconstitutional, but agreed to leave the program intact for those already benefiting from it while his order is appealed. Advocates say that they fear the end of DACA will uproot families and affect the lives of many in South Carolina.

Since 2012, people can obtain DACA status if they have submitted documentation proving they were brought to the U.S. as children, or have lived in the country since 2012 and don’t pose a public safety threat. Often called “Dreamers,” based on proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act, they have no pathway to apply for U.S. citizenship, but are authorized to work and receive Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses.

Texas, the lead plaintiff in the case with eight other red states, argues in part that DACA has hampered states financially by allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. illegally.

“DACA imposes classic pocketbook injuries on the States through social services, healthcare, and education costs,” Texas attorneys argued in a brief.

There are currently 8,785 DACA-eligible residents living in South Carolina. Nearly 90% are employed.

South Carolina’s DACA-eligible household incomes total $167.2 million. They pay $13.7 million in state and local taxes, and $19.6 million in federal taxes. They have a combined spending power of $134 million, according to New American Economy data, a bipartisan research and advocacy organization.

Speakers on the call Wednesday — which included two South Carolina-raised migrant students who have had to move out of state to finish their educations due to state restrictions — agreed DACA’s elimination would be devastating for families and individuals across the country.

Flores said he wouldn’t be able to properly support his 10-year-old son if DACA was rescinded. “I’m a father of a 10 year old, so getting DACA rescinded would just put me in a limbo of not knowing if I’m gonna be here to take my son to his next football game or to take my son to fifth grade,” Flores said.

The panel called for a permanent solution to DACA at the federal and state level.

South Carolina DACA students already face issues, like being ineligible for many occupational licenses and state-sponsored college scholarships.

Shrey Patel, a recent graduate from the University of South Carolina Honors College and one of the two student DACA recipients on the call, said his family was forced to pay out-of-state tuition in a state he had lived in for nearly 17 years. He currently lives in New York, where he moved to work at a research center because he is unable to attend medical school in South Carolina.

In Washington, Graham has been a longtime supporter of immigration reform. He most recently sponsored the Dream Act in 2021, a bipartisan bill co-introduced with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, which would allow “Dreamers” to become lawful citizens. He introduced identical legislation in the two previous congressional sessions.

Scott has called the immigration system “broken” and in need of fixing.

In the State House, Rep. Neal Collins, R-Pickens, has repeatedly introduced legislation to change the state’s DACA restrictions. Last year, a bill passed the House with bipartisan support but did not get a vote in the Senate. Collins told The State he plans to refile the bill when the Legislature reconvenes next year.

Collins described his proposal as bipartisan, and a common-sense conservative bill that most likely failed because of politicized beliefs on immigration.

“I like to say that I represent arguably the most conservative county and arguably the most conservative state,” Collins said. “I have some very, very conservative constituents. And, to me, this is a conservative issue.”

David Hair, the CEO of a Rock Hill-based labor management company, said on the Zoom call he remembers when he first started his business and how it depended on migrant labor. Hair described himself as conservative, a veteran, a patriot and a Christian who has seen recent and past struggles with labor shortages.

He said DACA reform is a key solution to this.

“If real business owners were in charge of Congress,” said Frank Knapp, president and CEO of the Small Business Chamber of Commerce of South Carolina, “they would tear down the self-imposed barriers to legal immigration, so that we would have more workers that we need and help reduce the inflationary cost needed to dramatically increase employee compensation.”

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