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DREAMing of a Better Tomorrow: In-State Tuition for Undocumented Immigrants

In contrast to the drumbeat of anti-immigrant attacks in past legislative sessions, this year has seen states across the country proposing in-state college tuition rates for undocumented students, a move mirrored by Congress' proposed DREAM Act, which was re-introduced at the federal level on March 25th.   A recent push in Oregon with HB 2939 for in-state tuition received a favorable editorial from the state's largest paper and had an overflow crowd at Monday's hearing. Oregon's legislation is typical of such bills in requiring a three year residency in the state with plans to become a lawful resident or citizen to qualify for the program. The Governors of New Jersey, Maryland, and Colorado have publicly stated their willingness to sign legislation allowing in-state tuition for undocumented students. However, sessions ended in Maryland and Colorado without passage of their in-state tuition bills although Colorado's in-state tuition bill, SB 170, passed the House and a Senate committee, coming just short of winning a floor vote.  Bills supporting in-state tuition have been introduced in Rhode Island, Missouri, and Connecticut as well.  Arkansas considered a bill, but it failed in the Senate, although the vote was closer than expected.

Failure of Anti-Immigrant Attacks on Current Laws: Currently ten states allow undocumented immigrants to enroll in state colleges and universities under the cheaper in-state tuition rate: California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington.  Attempts by anti-immigrant legislators to repeal those laws failed in both Utah and Nebraska. Despite past attacks, Kansas didn't even bring up a repeal bill this session. In North Carolina, which blocked undocumented students from enrolling at community colleges after pressure from the state Attorney General, the legislature is now reconsidering their options as a new study found that allowing undocumented students to enroll at out-of-state levels would generate needed revenues for the state.

Most States Prefer Integrating New Immigrants: As PSN highlighted in a report last year, a majority of undocumented immigrants now live in states where in-state tuition is available, highlighting the fact that states with the longest experience with immigrant populations recognize the advantage of integrating immigrants into the economy rather than indulging in punitive policies.   Most state leaders have in the end seen it as a question of whether or not states want to have a diverse, educated and highly-skilled workforce that can attract businesses for the long-term, something even many conservatives agree with: “Opening educational opportunity for more of our high school graduates means our state will have a more developed work force down the road, and will be able to attract more high-growth industries," said Dick Monfort, a prominent Republican businessman and chairman of the University of Northern Colorado Board of Trustees who supports the Colorado tuition equity bill.

Resources:
Washington HB 1079 (2003)
National Immigration Law Center -- Why Enactment of the DREAM Act would aid the ailing economy
UCLA -- Undocumented Students
Educators for the Dream Act