They say that when one door closes, another opens. But sometimes people just wind up getting stuck in the revolving door of immigration reform.

That's what seems to be happening with DACA students, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The Department of Homeland Security regulation is supposed to make it easier for folks who were brought here illegally by their parents to get access to a higher education.

But it also brings with it some new hurdles, namely being barred from state or federal tuition aid.

Now, to be fair, Trident Tech is certainly more affordable than many four-year institutions. The tri-county tuition rate, which is what somebody in Berkeley, Charleston or Dorchester counties would pay, is $1,855.40 per semester. As Trident Tech spokesman David Hansen pointed out, lottery tuition assistance can pay for more than 50 percent of that cost per semester, meaning some folks will pay as little as $715.40 for full-time enrollment per semester.

Compare that with the out-of-state tuition rate, which is $3,499.40 a semester, almost twice as much as the tri-county rate and almost five times as much as the lottery-discounted tri-county rate.

Law of the land

Israel Ortega is not a criminal, no matter how much some on the right would like to portray him as one. He went to school, and by his teacher's accounts to reporter Natalie Caula, he wanted to learn and wanted to graduate.

Now, with a wife and new baby, he wants to continue his education so he can provide for them.

That sure sounds like the American dream, but apparently some have decided that the American dream is only available to you if you were born here, to parents who were born here, despite that whole Ellis Island thing.

“We need to stop demonizing people like this young man who applied at Trident Tech who wants to be a good citizen and a productive member of community,” said Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina.

The ACLU asked the state Commission on Higher Education to help educate our higher-education institutions, letting them know it is the letter of the federal law, not the state's immigration laws, that should be their guideline, and admit DACA students.

A better society

Robert Condy, a Charleston immigration lawyer who represents Ortega, said he can see both sides of the argument about financial aid eligibility. DACA beneficiaries are in fact lawfully present, Condy said, but they have no lawful status. It's a bit of a conundrum, and he plans to investigate possible conflicts between the statute and the regulations.

Paying the full cost can certainly put a damper on someone's route to higher education. Out-of-state tuition and fees at Clemson are about $30,000 a year, more than double the in-state rate. That makes the roughly $7,000 yearly out-of-state tuition at Trident look like a bargain.

“It's just better for our society to educate people,” Condy said.

At least the federal government agrees.

Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or mbalog@postandcourier.com.