Expand in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants

Shane Wade
Opinion Editor

America’s history is one of judgment based on performance. For as much as we decry government handouts and the fostering of a welfare state, we pride ourselves on helping those who help themselves.

In the debate centered on granting in-state tuition rates to the children of undocumented immigrants, a similar philosophy should be applied.

Illustration by Chris Kindred
Illustration by Chris Kindred

While children of undocumented immigrants currently pay the out-of-state tuition rate, Virginia’s version of the DREAM ACT, House Bills 1934 and 2159, would have allowed them to pay the in-state rate, provided they had met certain requirements, including approval to stay by the Department of Homeland Security, residency of at least three years, graduation from a Virginia high school or acquiring a GED and if they, or their parents/guardians, have filed and paid Virginia income taxes.

All four House bills (HB 1490, 1525, 1934, 2159) and the two Senate bills (SB 1233 and 1090) died within the Education and Health Committees yesterday.

The legislation wasn’t about making room for immigrant applicants or having taxpayers subsidize the perceived “other.” It was about allowing people who have lived here to pay the in-state rate, incentivizing them to reach for higher education. Whether they are successful in that venture is reliant on their performance, not their racial background.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform estimates that, as of 2010, Virginia has a population of around 260,000 undocumented immigrants; while it would be difficult to estimate how many of them are college-bound, immigrants are a significant population that cannot be ignored.

Rather than focusing our attentions on deportation or barring them from accessing higher education, the state should allow the children of undocumented immigrants, individuals who came here unknowingly and unwillingly, to enroll in public universities for the same tuition price as any state resident. This allowance, however, should only be granted on a case-by-case basis, with the preceding committee or judge ruling on a pre-established set of criteria.

VCU encourages both non-immigrant and immigrant applicants to apply for enrollment in the university, but they’re bound by state laws and must place the burden of proof upon the student. As VCU’s enrollment services FAQ states, “Non-U.S. citizens are legally capable of establishing domicile where they have been granted the status of lawful permanent residents by the U.S. Immigration Service.”

As any out-of-state student knows, when contending with residency appeals for their tuition rate, mere physical presence within the state, primarily for school attendance, does not entitle them to in-state tuition rates.

Undocumented immigrants have an advantage over out-of-state students because they’re bona fide state residents and did not have in-state universities to select from; their presence here is therefore less of a choice.

The momentum for change is evident, but we must be willing to open the avenue of opportunity. The proposed bills asserted little financial risk to the states or universities and contain a great potential for reward.

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