South Carolina: First to Bar Undocumented Students

Stuck in the deep recesses of the South and in a horserace to appear tough on immigration, the South Carolina Senate has approved a get-tough on immigration measure that among other things, would bar undocumented students from higher education in the state.

S 392 which may be signed as early as next week reads:


SECTION 17. Chapter 101, Title 59 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding: “Section 59-101-430. (A) A person who is not lawfully present in the United States is not eligible to attend a public institution of higher learning in this State, as defined in Section 59-103-5. The trustees of a public institution of higher learning in this State shall develop and institute a process by which lawful presence in the United States is verified. (B) A person not lawfully present in the United States is not eligible on the basis of residence for a public higher education benefit including, but not limited to, scholarships, financial aid, grants, or resident tuition.”

It is a sad day for DREAMers in South Carolina but also a depressing loss for the state to assist in creating a permanent underclass of undocumented Americans. After investing in these students through K-12, South Carolina loses this investment by declaring that the students have no right to pursue higher education and realize their dreams.

The higher education ban serves no compelling state interest and should be subjected to constitutional inquiry. In Plyler v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that public education was not an impetus for illegal immigration–

“The evidence demonstrates that undocumented persons do not immigrate in search for a free public education. Virtually all of the undocumented persons who come into this country seek employment opportunities and not educational benefits. . . . There was overwhelming evidence . . . of the unimportance of public education as a stimulus for immigration.”

Given this fact, the Supreme Court affirmed that charging tuition for undocumented students “constitutes a ludicrously ineffectual attempt to stem the tide of illegal immigration.” Similar logic applies in this case–barring undocumented students from higher education does nothing to stem the tide of ‘illegal immigration’ into the state–Why punish innocent students and impose disabilities on them that are contrary to the basic concept that “legal burden should bear some relationship to individual responsibility or wrongdoing?”

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