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Deep in Conservative South Carolina, Republican Lawmaker Touts DACA’s Economic Necessity

South Carolina is one of America’s reddest states, and Pickens is its reddest county; 75 percent of voters in the county cast their ballot for President Donald Trump in 2016. But when Neal Collins, a Republican representing Pickens, introduced a bill to help South Carolina Dreamers get an education, his constituents expressed support. “The vast majority of the comments and phone calls and emails I’ve received, even here in Pickens County, have been positive,” he says.

Collins’ bill would allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients — qualifying undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children, and raised and educated here — to pay in-state tuition at South Carolina’s public universities. “We have children that we’ve invested in over the course of K-12, and then in South Carolina we put up roadblocks to them continuing higher education,” Collins explains. Constituents, he says, know that Dreamers are bright, ambitious, young people who love their adopted country and simply want to succeed.

It’s easy to cast aside people we don’t believe are our neighbors — but these are our neighbors.

Thirty young Dreamers testified in the South Carolina House as part of the run-up to the bill’s introduction. “Every one of them had a compelling life story, and they’re trying to live the American dream,” Collins says. “Their parents were trying to do better for future generations, and now the Dreamers are doing the same for their own lives, and their children’s.”

Collins says the rules that impede Dreamers from obtaining a higher education and professional licenses are wrong-headed. He points out that South Carolina has a shortage of skilled workers, a situation that threatens economic development and the subsequent creation of additional jobs for unskilled workers. Some of the current 60,000 job vacancies could be filled by Dreamers, he says. Ninety percent of the DACA-eligible population 16 years old and older are employed. Removing educational and professional roadblocks would allow them to contribute to their greatest ability, filling some of those skilled jobs, he says. “We’re only hurting ourselves,” Collins says. “It makes no sense from a business standpoint, or an economic standpoint, or even from a moral standpoint.”

The same, he says, goes for efforts to revoke DACA, which allows Dreamers — who must pass background checks — to live, work, and study in the United States without fear of deportation. Collins says that nobody wants to see America chase hundreds of thousands of young people out of the country. “It’s easy to cast aside people we don’t believe are our neighbors — but these are our neighbors,” Collins says. “These are actual people, and they have actual lives they’re trying to live in South Carolina.”

The bottom line is that the Dreamers are good for South Carolina, and voters — even in Republican-to-the-core Pickens County — are starting to understand that, Collins says. But now the White House and federal lawmakers must do their part, and come together to pass bipartisan legislation to secure the Dreamers’ future in America. Allowing DACA to expire, and leaving hundreds of thousands of young people vulnerable to deportation, simply isn’t an option, Collins says. “There’s no way we could deport all of the Dreamers, and there’s no way we’d allow it,” he says. “We have to have some meaningful reform.”

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