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Greenville Business Magazine

Make DACA the Example

By Jason Zacher

Senior Vice President, Greenville Chamber

Only in the halls of government can an issue supported by 75 percent of Americans be considered controversial.

What is the issue that continues to vex state and federal leaders? The future of DACA recipients, whether they can stay, and what jobs they’re allowed to work.

The Greenville Chamber and the Upstate Chamber Coalition strongly support state legislation, filed by Rep. Neal Collins of Easley, which will allow DACA residents to obtain state licenses to work in professions such as nursing, teaching, cosmetology, real estate, and even geology and forestry. (There is a bigger, long-term issue about whether professional licenses are barriers to employment or truly protecting the public, but that debate will wait for another day.)

We also support a federal solution sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham that allows DACA recipients to stay in the country legally to continue their education or employment. That legislation has bounced around Congress for nearly 20 years and needs to be passed now.

Dreamers came out of the shadows in 2012 and registered with the federal government. To apply, they must have been younger than 31 on June 15, 2012, have arrived before they turned 16 and been “undocumented.”

Every two years, they’re given background checks, and must be in school, the workforce, or the military. They pay a fee to be part of the program and those who are employed have Social Security numbers. Basically, they’re the epitome of a model American citizen.

At the national level, polls consistently show overwhelming support for the Dreamers. Polls from ABC, The Washington Post, Politico, CBS, and Morning Consult since 2017 have shown 74 to 80 percent support for the Dreamers. Many of the polls even include questions about whether Dreamers should be allowed to become citizens.

A CBS news poll last summer at the peak of the Covid pandemic showed 85 percent support for allowing Dreamers to stay in the country, including 73 percent of Republicans – notable because the pollster didn’t use the term “dreamer” but only described the program.

Which brings us back to our state. Dreamers are allowed to work in the United States, but they are locked out of dozens of occupations in our state. There are about 8,000 Dreamers in South Carolina, with the biggest concentration (2,000) being in Greenville-Spartanburg.

There are nearly 6,000 open “technical health care” jobs open the Upstate, most of which would require a professional license. The Dreamers studying to be nurses or other health care techs at our technical colleges will have to go to North Carolina upon graduation. Ditto to those

Dreamers who might want to fill other critical-needs positions, such as teaching.

Despite the panic on 24-hour news and right-wing fake news sites, the United States’ population is growing very slowly, according to the Census Bureau. The St. Louis Fed recently reported a historic decline in the working-age population (defined as people between the age of 15-65).

A decline in working age population, a slowing birth rate, and an aging population mean we will need folks from outside the United States to continue to grow our economy.

Since the founding of our country, American economic growth neatly coincides with periods of strong immigration (1850s, 1898-1914, 1950s, 1990s). Predicting future economic growth is a fool’s errand, but the growth in working-age population is strongly tied to economic growth.

If our country wants to sustain a 3 percent growth rate, promoting immigration policies that bring the best and brightest to the United States – starting with DACA recipients and foreign students studying at American universities – is a good place to start.

A federal deal on DACA will not only help those 800,000 young adults in the program (and 1 million eligible, but not registered), but also will hopefully prove to Washington that immigration has not replaced Social Security as the third rail of politics. Sen. Graham said last month that he hopes a deal on his re-introduced DREAM Act should pave the way for broader reform packages to change an immigration system that everybody in America understands is broken.

We would like to see changes such as making high-skill visas easier to receive in smaller metro areas like ours.

DACA is a test.

In Washington, we urge congressmen Timmons, Duncan, and Norman to join Sens. Graham and Scott to work on a DACA solution that keeps these young adults in the United States.

Here in South Carolina, we urge Upstate members of the state House of Representatives and Senate to sign on to Rep. Collins’ bill and we urge the House and Senate to move this legislation quickly.

Representatives from Columbia to Washington need to make DACA a priority now, and then set the table for an immigration reform package that will both fill our workforce needs and allow our economy to continue its expansion.