An estimated 6,400 young people in South Carolina are living in limbo after President Donald Trump threatened to end a federal program that shields them from deportation.
But even with that uncertainty, one South Carolina lawmaker is introducing a bill that would treat them like South Carolina residents, at least when it comes to pay for college.
Rep. Neal Collins, R-Pickens, has introduced legislation that would allow participants in the DACA program to pay in-state tuition at South Carolina colleges, apply for state-sponsored scholarships and receive professional licenses from state boards.
Immigrants are eligible for DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – if they were brought into the country as children and currently lack legal immigration status, but are working, enrolled in school or serving in the military and don’t have a criminal record.
Thousands of so-called “Dreamers” have signed up for the program in South Carolina, but colleges and universities still charge them higher out-of-state tuition rates. Even if they graduate, many jobs that require state licensing remain closed to them.
“South Carolina is one of just a handful of states penalizing Dreamers in the above fashion,” Collins said in a Facebook post. “(W)e have thousands of children and young adults in SC wanting to live the American Dream. To deny children that have only known SC as their home the same rights as their classmates serves little purpose in the face of our American ideals.”
Collins credits the bill to a series of hearings a State House children’s panel, where more than 30 Dreamers told their stories about the handicaps their DACA status puts on their ability to live, study and work in the Palmetto State.
University of South Carolina senior Maria Garcia Riopedre was one of them. He and her family moved to South Carolina from Mexico when she was 3, but she still had to work to pay out-of-state tuition while attending school. She hopes younger DACA recipients will get the same treatment as their S.C. classmates.
“It definitely would have made things more affordable,” Garcia said. “I know my dad worked very hard to allow me to go to school, and that’s been hard on him... I had scholarships that I qualified for, but I couldn’t get them.”
Another Dreamer who testified to Collins’s committee said she might have to leave the state to get her license to work as a physician’s assistant.
A national study by the University of Southern California and the Center for American Progress estimates recipients of DACA and the DACA-eligible population had a $262.7 million impact on South Carolina’s economy annually.
But Trump has said he plans to end the DACA program in March, unless Congress approves a permanent extension of the program. Some in Congress want such an extension to be included in any plan to avoid a federal government shutdown by Friday.
Regardless of the future of the program, Collins notes that many already have their status renewed until 2020. About a third of Dreamers in the state are in middle school, high school or college, meaning they could still benefit from in-state consideration.
“SC should have acted years ago and should now act immediately,” Collins said. “Should the federal government extend DACA, the three issues above exist indefinitely.”