This post was written for The New Texas Forum, a project of the Republican Party of Texas. It will also appear in the Forum’s first print edition of the academic year.
Have you heard? “The government is subsidizing illegal immigration! The Texas DREAM Act grants amnesty! Illegal immigrants are going to college for FREE!”
Hold your horses, folks. These statements, which are hurled at Gov. Rick Perry from both sides of the political spectrum, are simply not true.
In-state tuition for illegal immigrants is a hard policy to argue because it rests on such a thin line between supporting education and rewarding law-breaking. Admittedly, the governor didn’t argue the case well when he said opponents of this policy “don’t have a heart.” (He’s since recanted that statement.) But the people of Texas and the law support it and, when you know the truth, the policy is really not as controversial as it sounds.
Let’s start with the facts.
Those officially qualified as residents of the state of Texas are eligible for reduced in-state tuition rates at public universities. Resident status, as defined by the Texas Education Code §54.052 and §54.053, requires the following:
- Citizens must have lived in Texas for a minimum of three years and have graduated from a Texas high school.
- Non-citizens must have lived in Texas for a minimum of three years, have graduated from a Texas high school, and commit to starting the process of obtaining legal citizenship.
It’s that simple.
Critics say it’s a policy Texans don’t support. But it was overwhelmingly passed by the state legislature in 2001 with just five dissenting votes out of the 181 members in both houses. If that isn’t a majority, and a bipartisan one at that, I don’t know what is.
Other skeptics say it creates an unmanageable drain in tuition dollars and costs taxpayers millions. But in the 2010 fiscal year, only about 16,476 students out of 1.3 million, most at two-year community colleges, took the reduced rates. That’s about one percent – hardly a takeover of the public education system. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board estimated that, “assuming many of these students would enroll in less expensive schools or drop out altogether if faced with higher tuition costs,” the state would actually lose almost $92 million if the policy were repealed.
Still others say it’s the equivalent of amnesty. This is the one point that makes my internal alarm begin to chirp. I do not and will never condone illegal immigration or amnesty for illegal immigrants in any form – but the fact is, many of these students were brought to the U.S. by their parents. They are committing themselves to furthering their education, making a better life for themselves, and becoming productive citizens. This policy makes the best of a bad situation.
In the words of Geoffrey Tahuahua, Texas state chair of Students for Rick Perry, “Rather than allowing these kids to be a burden on the system, it’s better to encourage them to become educated contributors to our economy and our society.”
And Texas is not the only state to offer in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. According to CNN, California, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin have similar policies (though Wisconsin’s may be set to expire this year).
Bottom line, in-state tuition facilitates the education of young people and commits them to obtaining citizenship. That’s the crucial piece of the puzzle.
Finally, in-state tuition is just that: a state issue. Not once has Governor Perry advocated for the federal government or other states to adopt this policy. He has yet to indicate that he would do so as President. The fact is, this policy is legal, and it has no real negative consequences. Until the border is actually secured, I can see no reason to repeal this law.
You may not like it, but it works for Texas. And as y’all know, it’s never a good idea to mess with Texas.