It is rare that a piece of legislation comes before the South Carolina Legislature — or any legislature for that matter — that is at once deeply humane and economically efficient. However, there is currently such a proposal in front of the South Carolina House Judiciary Committee: H3404, the College Access and Workforce Development Act, co-sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats.
The act would offer in-state tuition, merit-based scholarships, and access to professional licenses to immigrant youths legally residing in South Carolina. The key group of beneficiaries would be DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients, the “Dreamers.”
First, let’s look at the economic efficiency of the proposed act. Currently, many Dreamers who obtain professional degrees are forced to take lower-paying positions or leave South Carolina in order to practice their professions, since they are not allowed to access to professional licenses here.
Nurses, engineers, accountants, cosmetologists, physical therapists, and others who require professional licenses to practice are denied those licenses and so, in order to remain employed in our state, must take minimum-wage jobs. As a result, many leave for states where they can obtain such licenses, taking with them the energy and resources the state has put in to educate them.
Or, alternatively, they stay in South Carolina working at positions beneath their educational qualifications. This is also a waste of educational resources and, in addition, it is a loss to those who would benefit from the exercise of their skills, that is to say, us, fellow residents of the state.
And this is only the result of the failure to offer professional licenses. Denying in-state tuition and merit-based scholarships to Dreamers leaves a group of young people legally residing in South Carolina without financial access to higher education.
It is no secret that the key to an economically thriving state is the education of its workforce. H3404 would enhance educational opportunity and therefore overall economic well-being.
Now let’s look at the humane aspect of the proposed act. Suppose, when you were a very young child, you were taken to another country and raised there. You did not choose this; it was chosen for you. Eventually you were granted temporary legal status and decided you wanted to use that status to improve yourself and contribute to the community.
However, you are told that you cannot do that. Financial barriers have been erected to keep you from furthering your education and, if you figure out how to clear those, professional barriers have been erected to keep you from practicing the skills you have obtained.
You are in this position through no fault of your own. Instead you have just tried to do what everyone tries to do: educate yourself and become a contributing member of the community.
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Would you consider such barriers to your advancement fair? Likely not.
H3404 and its sister proposal in the Senate, S431, would remedy these problems. They would allow a group of people who have lived in the only country — and in many cases the only state — they can remember to mold themselves into the kind of adults we all want our kids to be. And in doing so they would enhance the educational and economic standing of the state.
Currently, states that do not have such restrictions against Dreamers are benefiting at our expense. They are drawing upon the resources we have poured into these young people and allowing them to contribute through their skills, taxes, and public engagement to the betterment of other states.
Let’s allow our Dreamers access to full participation in South Carolina’s educational system and professional communities. We will all be better off for it.
Todd May, a professor of philosophy at Clemson University, is coordinator of a loose coalition of groups that work on issues surrounding immigration.
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