One of the programs that President Obama signed into existence by Executive Order was DACA – Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals. This program addressed the problems faced by young immigrants who grew up as Americans because their parents brought them here, but who were never documented or whose visas expired while still children. Such people are technically here illegally, along with tens of millions of others; the Obama Executive Order essentially told the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to defer action against these people and concentrate on the other millions. This deferral would become permanent if the young men or women were to join the U.S. military; they would be eligible for citizenship afterward. Or they could successfully complete college or hold down a permanent job; then they would then gain not citizenship but a long-term work visa. Undocumented young people in a certain age bracket who were brought here while much younger would only be eligible if they committed no crimes and contributed to our economy rather than being a drain on it.
The Trump administration has now announced its intention to allow the program to end in March of next year, unless Congress acts to make it permanent.
Are these people really contributing to our economy, and if so how much are they contributing? According to a recent article in the Columbia newspaper, a study by the University of Southern California and the Center for American Progress answered exactly that question, state by state. They estimated that in South Carolina there are 9,100 DACA residents who together account for $262.7 million dollars in our state’s economy. To put that into perspective, that number is almost twice the population of the town of Edgefield, and the $262.7 million dollars they contribute to the state is about six times the annual income earned in total by all residents of Edgefield. Of course, the concentration of DACA eligible immigrants is in the same places as the concentration of the rest of us: in the larger South Carolina cities. But the study further broke down their economic impact by Congressional district. Our Third District runs from Edgefield County to Oconee County, encompassing all the counties along the Savannah River and its tributaries along the way. In the Third District, DACA residents contribute $14 million dollars, or about half of the annual income earned in total by all the residents of Johnston. That is not a figure easily ignored.
Living here in South Carolina virtually their whole lives, attending our public schools, and now not burdening our economy but rather contributing substantially to it, many DACA recipients are our neighbors and deserve our support. It is not always easy to do what is right for our neighbors if that action might not be in our own or our family’s self-interest. Happily, this is not the case for DACA: supporting it is right both morally and economically and spans political lines. President Obama initiated the program, and President Trump himself has stated he would support it if enacted by legislation rather than by Executive Order. Our local governments at the city and county levels should pass resolutions in support of DACA. Our legislative delegation at the state level should indicate their support as well, as in the best interest of our county and state. And we should strongly urge our Congressional delegation to ensure that permanent DACA legislation is enacted with a priority equal to Tax Reform – to be completed before they, and we, begin a worry-free holiday season. They should enable our DACA neighbors to enjoy a worry-free holiday season as well.
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