In 1980, when Marie-Louise Ramsdale was 10 years old, her father, a metallurgical engineer, got a job in America and relocated the family from Britain to South Carolina. Ramsdale suffered from culture shock — “I had no idea what pizza was,” she says — but settled in quickly, thriving at school and going on to study at the University of South Carolina and Harvard University. After graduating, she launched City Year Columbia, a nonprofit that has mentored 40,000 students, and ran First Steps to School Readiness, a program that has provided tens of millions of dollars to early-education programs in the state.
Ramsdale, who now owns a family law firm with nine employees, is not a Dreamer. However, as a child immigrant who went on to become a U.S. citizen, she feels enormous sympathy and respect for young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to America through no fault of their own. “The only difference between them and me is that their parents weren’t legal, and that’s not their fault,” she says.
Ramsdale’s father was able to obtain green cards for the family through his employer, and Ramsdale qualified for a prestigious full scholarship to attend the University of South Carolina, where she majored in international studies, became student body president, and earned a spot at Harvard Law School.
Such opportunities would most likely not exist for Dreamers in her state, Ramsdale points out. While Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) provides qualifying undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children temporary legal status, it does not guarantee them all the rights afforded to state residents. And South Carolina is one of more than two dozen states that does not allow DACA recipients to pay in-state tuition at its public colleges and universities, putting the costs of an education out of reach for many Dreamers. South Carolina is also one of two states that expressly bars undocumented immigrants without DACA status from enrolling in any postsecondary public institution.,Furthermore, the state does not allow DACA recipients to obtain professional licenses. “It’s still very hard for people here in South Carolina who are DACA recipients to achieve the American dream,” Ramsdale says.
The economic impact, for their families and for the communities where they live, is tremendous.
Despite those limitations, Dreamers are working hard to contribute to their communities and the country, she says. Nationally, 90 percent of the DACA-eligible population 16 years old or older are employed, and 81.4 percent have graduated from high school and taken a college course. Combined these workers pay $3 billion a year in taxes and pay almost $2.5 billion annually into the Social Security and Medicare funds, critical social programs that benefit all Americans. “Many of these DACA recipients help to support their families, and are also on track to be major contributors, like I am in my own little personal way, to the state, local and U.S. economy,” Ramsdale says. “They’re buying homes, they’re in school, they’re getting an education, and they’re paying taxes. The economic impact, for their families and for the communities where they live, is tremendous.”
Ramsdale says she feels a real empathy for people who, like her, were simply brought to the United States by their parents. “There’s absolutely a parallel — neither one of us had any choice in coming,” she says. And just as Ramsdale went on to assimilate, thrive, and become an American, so too have DACA recipients assimilated and become American in everything except their permanent legal status. “The vast majority of DACA recipients are just trying to achieve the American dream,” she says. “They deserve a path to citizenship.”