The end of a federal program that allows children of undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. would harm not only the people involved, but hurt the country, advocates for immigrants say.
Rock Hill immigration lawyer Kelly Chicas said the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, called DACA, would be “devastating” for her clients who have built lives of work, school and more.
“This decision rips the rug from underneath their feet,” Chicas said. “People here under DACA right now are very much afraid” of being deported.
The majority of people affected by the repeal of DACA would have no immigration status as of next year and would be a priorty for deportation, Chicas said.
Chicas said she has clients working in professions such as dentistry, law and other fields who are bi-lingual and are “uniquely qualified” to stay in the country and fill important jobs.
“These people all worked their way up -- they received no free pass,” Chicas said.
Chicas and others urge Congress to find a long-term immigration solution that would keep those young undocumented people who came to the U.S. as children from being deported.
Rock Hill immigration lawyer Chan Ahn said he’s received calls from nervous clients who don’t know what to do now. And he doesn’t have answers for them yet.
“When DACA was first implemented, this was a welcome change or relief to those who are capable of participating in the local economy and jobs,” Ahn said. “We are really talking about the types of people our society as a whole should accept as a welcome addition.”
Lancaster immigration lawyer Dave Cook said the fallout could be huge for a decision that is “unfair” and targets people who have been allowed to stay here for years.
“I understand the need for legal immigration,” Cook said. “But this targets the most innocent population of immigrant, the children and young people who have been here and been a productive part of America.”
Ellen Wilder-Byrd, associate vice president for university communications and marketing at Winthrop University, said two current Winthrop students would be affected by the end of DACA. Students under DACA are allowed to attend South Carolina universities, but are considered non-residents and aren’t eligible for state or federal aid. Because Winthrop tuition is much more expensive for DACA students, not many apply, Wilder-Byrd said.
Maggie Giraud, a bi-lingual human resources manager from Charlotte who works in York County, said she knows of people from professions and other jobs who would be affected by the repeal of DACA.
“Many people have a deep concern about what this means for the young people and the country,” Giraud said. “We are talking about our youth here. These are good kids. They are the kids who live next door, who are living the American dream.”
But that dream would end, Giraud said, if DACA is repealed. She said many people who came to the U.S. as small children don’t know anything about their country of birth.
“America is all they know,” Giraud said.
Gilbert Dominguez of Rock Hill, originally from Mexico, said his children were born in the U.S., but he has extended family who would be affected by DACA.
“Many of the youth are very talented . This would limit their success,” Dominguez said.
Blake Hart, a minister at Oakland Baptist Church in Rock Hill, recently helped start a ministry call Puerta Abierta - Open Door to assist immigrants with basic legal help. The ministry is a joint venture with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina offering low-cost, immigration legal aid to immigrants and has been operating for just a couple of weeks.
Hart said he is “deeply saddened” DACA could end as the people affected are “stuck in limbo” as politicians discuss a solution. Hart said passing the DREAM Act or some other action that would protect people already here is the best solution.
“Our hope is this spurs Congress to find something better,” Hart said.