Carlos Phillips, CEO of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, says most of his chamber’s 2,200 businesses support federal action to protect Dreamers, the young people eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). These undocumented immigrants — brought to the country as children, raised and educated here — are an asset to employers and a vital part of the Greenville community, he says. “There is overwhelming support for DACA, and for a solution to our immigration situation,” he says. “It’s driven by common sense, business sense, and just an understanding that we need to retain all the talent that we can.”
We’ve got a workforce gap, and we can’t afford to leave anyone on the sidelines.
He says there is also a moral case to be made for helping America’s 800,000 DACA recipients, who receive a reprieve from deportation and the legal authorization to work in the United States. “We’ve got children who were brought here without their knowledge,” he says. “It seems a bit troubling to think that they may be sent to a place they know nothing about, when America is all they know.”
For the business community, there is a clear economic case for allowing Dreamers to stay, he says. The Greenville economy is booming, but unemployment is so low that businesses can’t find the skilled workers they need to thrive and expand. Phillips says the area currently has 18,000 job vacancies but only 10,000 eligible workers qualified to fill them. “Our workforce challenge is impacting service levels, it’s impacting businesses’ ability to grow and expand, and it’s the key impediment to economic growth,” Phillips says. “Greenville is growing at a wonderful clip right now, but we could be growing exponentially faster if we could fill the workforce gap.”
DACA recipients are helping to fill that gap for many companies. Ninety percent of the DACA-eligible population 16 years old and older are employed, and 81.4 percent have graduated from high school and taken a college course. “They’re the talent that’s filling some of these jobs. They’re contributing. And, what’s even more important, is that they want to contribute at a greater level,” Phillips says. Getting rid of the Dreamers would leave Greenville companies further shorthanded, increasing their costs and inhibiting their future growth. “It would certainly negatively impact a business’s ability to hire talent,” Philips says. “It’s hard for them to increase productivity if they can’t fill jobs.”
Phillips urges lawmakers to implement a DACA solution, both for the 800,000 young people who have already received DACA protection and for the 1.3 million youngsters who are currently eligible. “The solution needs to include a way for folks who are currently covered under DACA to stay here,” he says. “And for those folks who could be covered but for whatever reason haven’t applied, there needs to be a path for them to apply without risking adverse outcomes to their families.”
It is the ethical thing to do, but also critical for the economy, he says: “There’s a business case for why we support DACA, and why we’re encouraging the lawmakers in D.C., our Congress, to solve the problem. We’ve got a workforce gap, and we can’t afford to leave anyone on the sidelines.”