Sunday, December 28, 2014

In defense of in-state college tuition for undocumented students

(Author's note: I was recently asked by columnist Mercedes Olivera of The Dallas Morning News to comment on Texas Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick's initiative to repeal in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrant students. You can click here to read the Morning News column, including my thoughts. I provided The Dallas Morning News with a full statement (excerpts from which were used in Olivera's column), but I have included the complete statement here to explain why in-state tuition makes sense.   

Republicans had previously supported the in-state tuition program, and Gov. Rick Perry signed it into law and continues to support it. Patrick, however, has led a vindictive, anti-immigrant campaign that led to his election as lieutenant governor this fall. Here is why I feel repealing the in-state tuition discount would be a serious mistake.)

Dan Patrick continues to cloud the immigration issue by using words like “invaders” and “criminals” to disparage immigrants, especially using the term “illegal” over the legally correct term of “undocumented.” He fails to grasp the intricacies of the immigration issue, particularly the fact that no immigrant, regardless of entry, is “illegal” until designated as such by an immigration judge. His inability to differentiate the complexities of immigration law makes him wholly unqualified to comment on the issue, much less lead the charge to change a law that could have disastrous consequences on the future of our state.

Dan Patrick
The concept of in-state tuition is based on the idea that those who live in Texas and contribute taxes to fund our college education system should be awarded a discount. These taxes are collected regardless of one’s legal residency status, so undocumented immigrants and their children pay into the system just as much as a documented citizen. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that undocumented immigrants contribute over $1.6 billion in taxes to the Texas economy, so the contention that immigrants (legal, illegal, or undocumented) do not contribute to the Texas economy is false. They pay in as much as any other citizen, and deserve to partake in the benefits of paying into the system.

The hard truth is most undocumented immigrant children qualify for legal residency and eventual citizenship under current immigration law, and not any special directive from the President, Congress, or ICE. They are going to eventually become legal citizens of Texas. They are in this position because they cannot afford an attorney to help settle their residency status, and ICE offers no help except the option of deportation without due process. It’s a problem I’ve seen over and over in my work with the Isenberg Center for Immigration Empowerment in Oak Cliff.

By denying these young Texans the chance to earn a college education, we will create a permanent underclass that will have ramifications both for their families and our state, as a whole, in the future. I find it disgusting that Mr. Patrick, in order to score some cheap political points and advance his own career, would sacrifice the futures of kids who want to learn, who want to better themselves, and want to contribute to our great state. These kids have known no other home but Texas. They deserve a fighting chance.

There is a reason in-state tuition was championed by Gov. Rick Perry and other Republicans, as well as Democrats. It is a stand based on principle, not restricted by party.