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South Carolina Law Targets Illegal Immigrants Going to School


Dayana Rodrigues graduated in the top 5 percent of her high school class in 2007 and completed nursing prerequisites at Horry-Georgetown Technical College.

But in January, the college refused to re-enroll the 20-year-old returning student because she is an undocumented immigrant, The Post and Courier of Charleston reports.

“You know it’s not personal,” she said. “But it is.”

The South Carolina Illegal Immigration Reform Act became law in June and, among other measures, banned illegal immigrants from attending colleges and universities that receive state money.

Supporters of the ban feel strongly that taxpayers’ money should not fund a school that is educating lawbreakers. Opponents said it’s unfair to punish children for their parents’ crimes.

South Carolina is the first to legalize such a ban, although other Southern states have restrictive policies. For instance, North Carolina and Alabama bar undocumented people from attending community colleges.

At least nine states, mainly on the West Coast, have moved in the opposite direction and allow in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. No federal law regulates the issue.

Institutions across the state are grappling with how to enact the ban. Horry-Georgetown barred new students who are in the country illegally from enrolling in the fall and extended the ban to returning students this spring. For a while, the college would not release transcripts to undocumented students.

Prior to the law, Horry-Georgetown had an open admission policy. George Swindoll, assistant vice president for enrollment, estimated the technical college has lost $50,000 in tuition revenue this semester because of the new law. Undocumented immigrants paid out-of-state tuition prior to the new law and cannot qualify for federal assistance.

In defense of the legislation, Gov. Mark Sanford said: “You got to draw a line in the sand somewhere, and, that is, are you an illegal immigrant or are you a legal immigrant? There are certain rights and privileges that seem to me would go with being a legalized citizen versus not. To me, the age of the young person is less in question than the legality of their citizenship.”

Marcia Zug, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, said the law is popular among South Carolinians and likely would hold up under legal challenges. She and a co-author addressed the issue in an article that will appear in the Charleston Law Review this spring.

They pointed out that students will not be able to use their education to work legally in the United States. If Rodrigues completed her nursing degree, she would not be able to receive a license legally.

Zug points to the federal DREAM Act, introduced in 2005, as counterpoint. The act, which has failed to win congressional approval, would open a path to citizenship for people 16 or younger when they entered the country and who entered five years before the act’s passage. After earning an associate degree or serving two years in the military, a person could get conditional residency. And, after six years and a demonstration of good moral character, the person would be able to apply for citizenship.

Rodrigues said the sting of that January day when she was turned away is fading. She is deferring her dream. “If they want me (in college), I’ll go. If not, I’ll go on with my life and see how it goes,” she said. “I’m just numb at this point.”

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