COLUMBIA — Thousands of young people in South Carolina have been granted temporary resident status over the past year under a federal program that postpones deportation proceedings, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services records.
The Greenville News reported Tuesday that 3,438 applicants from South Carolina have been approved for the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals program, representing less than 1 percent of nearly 540,000 people granted temporary status nationwide.
President Barack Obama created the program by executive order in June 2012. Recipients can receive federal work permits, allowing them to attend public colleges, apply for a job and get a driver’s license.
The program closely tracks the failed DREAM Act, which would have provided a path to legal status for many young people whose parents brought them to the country illegally. While Obama’s program doesn’t give legal status, it protects recipients from deportation proceedings for up to four years, if a two-year renewal term is granted.
Applicants for the reprieve must have arrived in the country before turning 16, be younger than 31, be high school graduates or in school, or have served in the military. They can’t have a serious criminal record.
A South Carolina attorney who has helped high school students apply said most of them have been approved without any problem.
“Most of them were seniors in high school who have been here since they were 2 or 3 years old and had never been in any trouble and could easily prove they had been here the entire period because they had all their school records,” said Tammy Besherse with the Appleseed Legal Justice Center. “We did not come across any that we thought could not meet the rules.”
Greenville immigration attorney Allen Ladd said his firm’s clients have included two valedictorians and students who have been offered scholarships.
“I think this country has always been about new arrivals contributing to the greater good. And I believe, given a chance, that’s what all these folks will do,” he said. “To me, deporting them would be ghastly.”
South Carolina’s congressmen have mixed feelings about the program.
Republican Trey Gowdy, a former South Carolina solicitor, told the Greenville News he doesn’t like how the president created the program but thinks South Carolinians would support giving the children a chance.
Fellow Republican Jeff Duncan says Obama’s executive orders should be struck down by a court as unconstitutional.
“When the president plays games to try to get around the law, he hurts the public’s trust and makes it more difficult to get things done in Washington,” said Duncan.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the state’s only Democratic congressman, said he supports the program and would like to see any immigration bill sent to the president include a DREAM Act provision.
State Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Larry Martins, R-Pickens, said Obama’s action reflects the inability of Congress to address the problem.
“What do you do in the alternative? These are children who came here, and we don’t need to raise a generation of indigents because we refuse to let them assimilate into our society and be educated,” he said.