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H3404 provides rights for lawful immigrants in South Carolina: Support it!

 The College Access and Workforce Development Act, SC House Bill H3404, restores in-state tuition rates, eligibility for some state academic scholarships, and access to professional licensing for DACA recipients, all of which have been denied to them. The act is designed to help people like a young woman who I met recently. I’ll call her Mia.

Mia was born in a poor family from a region of northern Mexico that was ruled by drug gangs. Fearing violence, her family crossed the border to the United States, settling in California. At the time, she was a toddler. Her parents worked around the clock to make ends meet and lived in terror of being caught and deported. Mia rarely saw them and spent many hours alone or with her brother, often missing school because her family had to move from one place to another. She learned English on her own and essentially raised herself.

In 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program came into effect, and Mia, and some 700,000 people like her, could step out of the shadows. It is important to remember that “Dreamers” are lawfully present in the United States. They did not sneak across the border but were brought here by others. Most often, they know no other culture but that of the United States. Mia is registered with the federal government and must pass federal background checks every two years. She now lives in South Carolina along with more than 7,000 other Dreamers. They were with you in high school; you have met them at cafés and in line at the grocery store; a few may even be students at Clemson. They pay more than 11 million dollars in local and state taxes every year.

But DACA recipients in South Carolina are targets for unfair treatment in education and employment. First, they are required to pay out-of-state tuition at state universities. At Clemson, this increases their tuition by well over $20,000 per year. They are also refused eligibility for all state-funded forms of financial aid. So many of these resilient young people study at community colleges or vocational schools. But then they encounter more, often insurmountable barriers to employment. In Mia’s case, the hardships of upbringing did not provide the academic experience and discipline necessary for college. She has always wanted to become a beautician, so she completed a vocational program. But because South Carolina law bars DACA recipients from professional licenses, she cannot work in her field. The same problem occurs at other levels. I recently listened to an academically gifted young Dreamer who managed to complete pre-medical studies in a local university, which, because it is private, was able to grant him some financial aid. However, he will have to leave South Carolina for medical school and, because of the license rule, will practice medicine elsewhere. 

South Carolina is one of only six states to maintain these drastic policies that hurt our state economy, our local communities, and our immediate neighbors, whereas many more states, including conservative places like Utah and Texas, provide both in-state tuition and financial aid to DACA recipients.

Some may argue that the issue is more complicated, and that, because DACA has been rescinded, DACA students may be kicked out of the country at any time. Why should we pass a law to protect their rights? I certainly hope the United States as a whole could not be so cruel and inhumane. Doing so will not improve our economy, lower our unemployment rate, or enrich our culture. This is probably why polls show that nearly 80% of Americans support a permanent solution in favor of Dreamers, including a path toward citizenship. The rescission of DACA has been blocked in the courts, and several members of Congress have been working on a number of bills to settle the status of DACA recipients once and for all. However, it is not necessary to agree with me on this to support H3404, because the bill can only apply to lawfully present residents of the State. If Dreamers’ status were to change, they would not benefit from the bill.

 H3404 has particular meaning for us at Clemson. Every time we come to campus, we are accessing a space from which others are excluded. We are preparing for social and economic success while preventing others from doing so, even though they have done nothing wrong. We here at Clemson are complicit.

But a small effort on our part can change this. H3404 is currently under consideration in the House Judiciary Committee and has been co-sponsored by at least seventeen representatives, both Republican and Democrat, including the representative of Clemson’s district,. As Clemson students and employees, we come from all over the state, and our reach is long. The bill needs a few more co-sponsors and, especially, the support of your representative from back home. An easy telephone call, email, or letter to encourage your representative will not only boost the state economy, but it will also break down barriers that prevent some of the most vulnerable and underprivileged from taking the same path toward success as the rest of us.

For more information on the bill:



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