Last week when the state’s Senate Education Committee voted to give in-state college tuition to illegal immigrant students, the seven committee members that passed SB1014 also voted to violate a 2012 Tennessee law.
By voting to pass SB1014, Senators Gresham, Tate, and Tracy voted against the “Eligibility Verification for Entitlements Act” (EVEA), the law they had each voted to pass in 2012.
Bill sponsor Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) and Senators Crowe, Dickerson, and Haile also voted yes.
Senators Hensley and Kelsey voted no.
Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) was a named co-sponsor of the EVEA.
The 2012 EVEA, which the TN Board of Regents’ General Counsel confirmed last week, classifies in-state tuition is a state benefit. The EVEA requires that:
“…every state governmental entity and local health department shall verify that each applicant eighteen (18) years of age or older, who applies for a federal, state or local public benefit from the entity or local health department, is a United States citizen or lawfully present in the United States in the manner provided in this chapter.”
Only U.S. citizens and “qualified aliens” are considered eligible to apply for benefits under this Tennessee law which defines “qualified alien” by referencing federal law. Neither illegal immigrants, nor Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) who cross the border illegally without an adult, are likely to fit the federal law definition of “qualified alien.”
Neither would recipients of Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, fit within the definition of “qualified alien” even though they are considered “lawfully present” per the 2012 policy issued through a memorandum by the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration.
Before the Senate Education Committee passed Sen. Gardenhire’s SB1014, he noted that his new bill version deleted any prior references to DACA requirements that were in his 2015 bill which was intended to benefit DACA grantees. Despite a temporary two-year deportation deferral, DACA grantees’ immigration status remains illegal since DACA criteria requires the person to have entered the U.S. illegally before age 16.
Regardless of the language change in the Gardenhire/White bill, last week in committee Rep. Mark White (R-Chattanooga) acknowledged that he had “another bill,” referring to HB863, that addressed in-state tuition for illegal immigrant students.
White’s bill, HB863 is scheduled to be heard by a House Education Subcommittee on Tuesday, March 28th. Members of this subcommittee who voted to pass the EVEA in 2012 include White, Republican Rep. Harry Brooks and Democrat Rep. Johnnie Turner.