Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Educational Leadership

Committee Chair/Advisor

Gonzales, Leslie D

Committee Member

Marion, Russell

Committee Member

Brewer, Curtis

Committee Member

Quigley, Cassie


On June 4, 2008, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford signed the South Carolina Illegal Immigration Reform Act into law. According to the Act (Section 59-101-430), 'an alien unlawfully present in the United States is not eligible to attend a public institution of higher learning in [South Carolina]'. After the passage of this legislation, public colleges and universities in South Carolina were prohibited from enrolling (or reenrolling) undocumented immigrants as students, and are now required to verify the legal status of all students, through the federal e-verify system. This legislation represents a true limiting of higher education opportunities, as well as overall life chances, for undocumented students. Specifically, in this qualitative study, I consider the discourses implicit within the dialogue of policymakers who work to promulgate this type of prohibitive state-level policy. Thus, in this research, I considered questions related to the development of policies that shape the access, or lack of access, for undocumented immigrant students to the public higher education system in South Carolina. The principle research question that this study seeks to answer is: What dominant discourses are implicit within the dialogue of South Carolina policymakers within the passage of the South Carolina Illegal Immigration Reform Act (2008)? The findings presented here are based on thematic analysis of content, utilizing texts and other forms of communication related to the Act's passage. Four major themes emerged within this analysis. First, the protectionist view was the most common theme within the data, with a frequent expression of a general sentiment, among policymakers, that the undocumented population exists as a threat, to both South Carolina's citizens and the state's resources. The second theme within these research findings related to the failure of the federal government to adequately deal with immigration policy. This analysis suggested a common ideology that the undocumented population should be someone else's problem (the federal government), but since the federal government was unwilling to act, the state's action was a moral necessity. Third, policymakers commonly showed a limited and often nativist attitude toward the undocumented, with language that separated the undocumented from others in South Carolina society. Lastly, the political motivations of these policymakers are apparent within this data, as there was a suggestion that policymakers mold their conversations and actions about immigration-related policies on their own potential for political rewards, instead of on the consideration of population at hand. There are numerous implications related to this research, particularly as they apply to the role of institutions of higher education, policymakers, advocacy efforts, future research related to this issue. This Dissertation work contributes to the ongoing dialogue about issues related to undocumented immigrants and their status in the U. S. Particularly, it is necessary to increase attentiveness to the language surrounding this issue. Certain ideologies that underlie specific language are regularly utilized by political figures as they seek to convey the reasons and values behind their decision-making process. It is clear, from this research, that those in positions of power are defining current populations of undocumented persons as dangerous and problematic.



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