Rossy, Edikan and Erick came to South Carolina as children with their parents from Honduras, Nigeria and Mexico. They are among the state’s 9,000 “Dreamer Kids” -- one of the top priorities of the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center.
“A lot of immigrants are facing uncertainty,” says Sue Berkowitz, director of the center in Columbia.
The Dreamers, especially, have been left wondering if they might be targeted for deportation. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has issued new guidelines on undocumented immigrants. So far in the Trump administration, Dreamers are protected by DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals), the order signed by President Obama.
Sen. Lindsay Graham has proposed the BRIDGE Act, for Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy.
“We’re working with Sen. Graham [for passage of the federal legislation],” Berkowitz said.
She described the legislation as “the bridge to helping these kids have the ability to stay here, and have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams.”
In late April, the center will conduct “training for lawyers to understand immigration law.”
On health care, potential changes in Medicaid, proposed in Congress, are of major concern in South Carolina. About a million S.C. residents have health care coverage through Medicaid. The S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center website says “60 percent of all births and 75 percent of all nursing homes are covered by Medicaid.” Of the million people covered, more than 630,000 are children.
“We are not a legal aid office,” Berkowitz says, although the justice center started in 1979 as a backup for legal aid services. “Our organization addresses issues systematically. Our focus is providing legal advocacy for social, economic and legal justice issues.”
Berkowitz, with the center since 1989, says “we are small but mighty.” Several years ago, the center went from an office of five to an office of one when Congress stopped funding. Now, the center has a staff of 10, including four attorneys. It affiliated with Appleseed, a national network, in 1999. Appleseed has public interest law offices in 17 locations around the country.
The S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center receives no direct federal or state government funding. Its approximately $850,000 operating budget comes from grants and donations. “We worked really closely with the late Sen. Clemanta Pinckney,” one of the victims of the Charleston church slayings.
The center’s Award for Justice has been named in honor of Pinckney. The award is given at an annual fund-raising reception.
Other issues for the center are predatory lending, child health insurance, human trafficking, identity theft, welfare and hunger. As one might imagine, “raising funds for the kind of work we do can be tough.”
▪ Total | 232,749
▪ Undocumented | 36,000
▪ Dreamer Kids | 9,000
S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center
Online | www.scjustice.org
Email | SCALJC@scjustice.org
Phone | 803-779-1113 Ext. 100