The MISSION of the South Carolina Hispanic Leadership Council (SCHLC) is to enhance the quality of life and quantity of services delivered to the Hispanic Community in South Carolina through the sharing of useful information and timely exchange of ideas.

The VISION of the South Carolina Hispanic Leadership Council is to assist Hispanics/Latinos in South Carolina to become strong, viable contributor sector of the state, recognized by the state's decision makers, employers and the general public as valuable assets to the future success of South Carolina.

Suggested Methods of Immigration Reform

Immigration reform is very complex. There is much debate surrounding what changes are needed to best repair the immigration process. To do so will require a keen insight into and understanding of the problems with the immigration system as it stands today. The South Carolina Hispanic Leadership Council, after careful consideration of the issues involved, advocates for the following:

1. A path of earned citizenship for those who are undocumented. We believe that undocumented persons must earn the right to citizenship. We do not advocate for amnesty. The South Carolina Hispanic Leadership Council advocates for earned citizenship because we realize that many of those who are undocumented have risked their lives to come to the U.S. They come here for a better economy, a relatively low cost of living, and safety for themselves and their families. Many immigrants come from countries where there are essentially no opportunities to rise above a cycle of poverty and attain a better living environment. By coming to live in the U.S., they hope to change not only their lives, but also the lives of their families. The South Carolina Hispanic Leadership Council does want these immigrants to have a better life through earned citizenship. We also believe immigrants seeking legalization should pass background checks, pay all taxes, maintain clean records, learn English, and pay fines to the government.

2. Reform to visa backlog. For those trying to enter the U.S. legally, the visa backlogs can create waiting periods of years. Visa backlogs have several causes, some of which are lack of coordination and communication between the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices and other agencies, untrained staff handling complex immigration laws and customers having lack of access to USCIS officers who are knowledgeable about their cases. Also, most visas are limited to individuals with particular skills or family relationships. If people do not fit into the visa categories, then it can be almost impossible to come to the US legally. All of these issues cause not only visa backlogs but also create hardship for those waiting to come over and for family members here that miss them and wish to be reunited. It also causes people to enter the country without proper documentation, or overstay their legal visas.

3. An overhaul of employment conditions for immigrants. Many immigrants are recruited to the U.S. to work legally. However, there are others who are not authorized to work in the U.S. that provide invaluable services to the U.S. through work in all fields of industry. Many times such immigrants are neither compensated nor treated fairly for their hard work and fear reprisal if they speak up or ask for help. The current system fails to take into account how much such immigrants’ work contributes to society and just how many billions of dollars immigrants contribute to the economy through federal, state and local taxes. The U.S. needs a better system for employment to ensure that immigrants are treated fairly for the hard work that they do.

4. In-state tuition for immigrants. Most colleges charge immigrants out-of-state tuition, even when they are residents of the state in which the college is located. If undocumented students, likely brought over to the US as young children, with no choice in the matter, are not allowed to attend college with in-state tuition then the state will perpetuate an underclass of non-college educated people who are not going to be competitive in the 21st-century marketplace. In-state-tuition for undocumented children would encourage them to stay in high school and give them the opportunity to contribute to society. It would also bring in more revenue for the state colleges and universities.

The Hispanic Leadership Council also supports the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act). The DREAM Act addresses the higher education needs of immigrant children who grew up in the United States, but came to the country without documentation. The bill’s purpose is to help such kids go on to college, by providing that they be able to pay in-state tuition. The Act also provides a 6–year path to receiving permanent residency. To qualify for immigration relief under the DREAM Act, a student must meet the following criteria:

A. Been brought to the U.S. more than 5 years ago when he or she was 15 years old or younger
B. Be able to demonstrate and maintain good moral character
C. After graduating from high school do one of the following within 6 years:
• graduate from a 2-year college,
• complete at least 2 years toward a 4-year degree, or
• serve in the U.S. military for at least 2 years

Without the DREAM Act, thousands of undocumented children who grew up in the U.S. will not be able to go to college or work legally. This puts them in the position of not only being unable to contribute to society, but also being unable to realize their goals and having to live in fear of immigration services. The DREAM Act would change the fate of thousands of immigrant children, many of whom already consider themselves Americans.

5. Civil and human rights for immigrants. Many proposals to Congress erode basic human rights. Such proposals include paying up front for health care, denying social services of any kind and greatly limiting legal rights. The South Carolina Hispanic Leadership Council believes that everyone deserves basic human and civil rights.

6. Only federal law enforcement should enforce federal immigration laws. Many people are pushing for local police enter into contracts with the Department of Homeland Security. The contracts, known as Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) would allow local police to enforce federal immigration laws. Not only would this tax our already overly burdened law enforcement officers, but it would also cost a great deal of money for such officers to be properly trained on federal immigration laws.

MOUs also raise concerns for the immigrant community. Immigrant witnesses and victims of crime will be reluctant to come forward and report crimes or share critical information, if they fear police have immigration powers. This could prove to be especially true for non-citizen victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence in immigrant communities is an imposing problem. In recognition of this problem, Congress enacted laws to help immigrant victims. These laws include the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and U-Visas. Such laws allow victims the means to obtain legal immigration status. The effectiveness of these provisions relies on local police responding to domestic violence calls. If battered immigrants fear the police, they will not call for help, nor cooperate. Instead, women and children will suffer the abuse rather than risk being turned in by local and state authorities.

Even U.S. citizens and lawfully-present immigrants will cease to cooperate with police if they sense the police view them with suspicion because of their ethnicity or the language they speak. They will also fear the extra scrutiny and unforeseen consequences close family members, who are not here legally, receive. Relationships and trust will be destroyed in immigrant communities if immigration related consequences factor into the equation.

7. No national language. While many Hispanics speak English and believe that English competency is a necessity for success in the United States, there is a portion of the Hispanic population that needs language support systems while learning the language. Immigrants that do not speak English do want to learn. They realize that learning English will not only enhance their lives in the U.S., but also enable them to get better paying jobs. Currently, though, there are not enough English as Second Language (ESL) classes available to help immigrants reach their goal of learning English. Also, because many immigrants work more than one job, it is all the more difficult to for them to have the time to take an ESL class. The South Carolina Hispanic Leadership Council supports Hispanics learning the English language, but fears that making English the national language will have unforeseen devastating effects on access to health care and other services.

8. Driver’s licenses for all immigrants. Under both our current system of laws and under the REAL ID Act, undocumented immigrants are not eligible to receive driver’s licenses. This creates transportation problems for immigrants, who must either find alternative transportation or drive illegally. Like everyone else, immigrants need to be able to get to work, school and doctors’ appointments.

Some states have allowed immigrants to receive driving certificates. These certificates are similar to driver’s licenses. Immigrants must usually pass a vision test, written test, and skills test. They also must have insurance. The Hispanic Leadership Council believes driving certificates could benefit many immigrants in the state and also keep the roads safer for everyone.

9. Interpreters in health care settings. Language barriers are often cited as one of the main reasons immigrants do not have access to health care and services. The implementation and enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act ensures that individuals who are learning English have equitable access to the health care system. Title VI mandates that almost all health care centers that receive federal funds must make available free interpreters and translated materials. This includes hospitals, clinics and doctors' offices. The South Carolina Hispanic Leadership Council supports this law and does not want to see it changed.