Sixteen Republicans in the State Senate and twenty-seven in the House caved to the demands of the TN Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) when they voted to give in-state tuition to illegal aliens with deferred deportation under DACA, or who might become eligible for DACA.
DACA does not alter a grantee’s illegal immigration status.
Ignoring the illegal immigration issue and offering a “soft amnesty” to DACA illegal aliens, the forty-three Republicans voting “aye” for the Gardenhire/White 2015 in-state tuition bill, also voted to violate federal and Tennessee law. These lawmakers also ignored the fact that Obama’s DACA policy was neither a statutory nor Constitutional exercise of executive authority.
Republican Senators voting for the 2015 in-state tuition bill: Janice Bowling, Richard Briggs, Rusty Crowe, Steve Dickerson, Todd Gardenhire, Mark Green, Dolores Gresham, Ferrell Haile, Ed Jackson, Brian Kelsey, Becky Duncan-Massey, Randy McNally, Frank Niceley, Doug Overbey, Steve Southerland, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.
Republican House members voting for in-state tuition: Harry Brooks, Kevin Brooks, Kent Calfee, Dale Carr, Mike Carter, Bill Dunn, Jimmy Eldridge, Andrew Farmer, Marc Gravitt, Mike Harrison, Ryan Haynes, Patsy Hazlewood, Bud Hulsey, Curtis Johnson, Sabi Kumar, Pat Marsh, Gerald McCormick, Steve McDaniel, Steve McManus, Bob Ramsey, Bill Sanderson, Eddie Smith, Mike Sparks, Curry Todd, Mark White, Tim Wirgau, Rick Womick.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Speaker Beth Harwell left the chamber instead of voting on this bill.
The 2015 bill passed in the Senate but failed in the House by a single vote. Since then Rep. Mark White and Sen. Todd Gardenhire have introduced new bills that are broader in scope and would make in-state tuition available to any illegal alien residing in Tennessee including DACA grantees. One bill failed in 2017 and one remains for a final vote when the General Assembly convenes in 2018.
The Leftist organizations who have advocated for the adoption of this in-state tuition for illegals proposal for years are clearly gearing up for a full court political press here in Tennessee in 2018, despite the most recent legal precedents in other states that have knocked down the idea.
On June 20, 2017, an Arizona appellate court ruled against DACA grantees seeking in-state college tuition.
Dale Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of the Immigration Reform Law Institute commented that “[t]he [Arizona] decision is key because in-state tuition is yet another benefit that acts as a magnet for illegal aliens choosing to make the reckless and irresponsible decision to bring their children illegally across our sovereign borders.”
Arizona law prohibits allowing illegal aliens living in the state to pay the in-state tuition rate. Similarly, Tennessee’s “Eligibility Verification for Entitlements Act” classifies in-state tuition as a state benefit and incorporates federal law that says only U.S. citizens and “qualified aliens” (which do not include illegal aliens), can access state benefits.
The in-state tuition bill for the 2018 session will create a special exception for illegal aliens in Tennessee by removing in-state tuition as a state benefit. Proponents of SB635/HB660 are using Governor Haslam’s “Drive to 55” education agenda created by gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd, to justify acceding to a goal that TIRRC has been pursuing since 2014. Changing Tennessee law to accommodate illegal aliens, however, creates an incentive for illegal aliens to settle in Tennessee.
Sen. Richard Briggs, Becky Duncan-Massey and Reps. Kent Calfee and Eddie Smith who all voted for the in-state tuition bill, are supporting Randy Boyd’s campaign.
Rep. Bill Sanderson who also voted for the in-state tuition bill, will be challenged by Newbern mayor Justin Wright in 2018. GOP gubernatorial candidate Speaker Beth Harwell is supporting Sanderson’s bid for re-election.
Tennessee legislators supporting TIRRC’s in-state tuition agenda have argued that Congress’ inaction on immigration reform has left them no choice but to resolve this issue. Federal law, however, is clear; the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, signed into law by President Clinton, prohibits state colleges and universities from providing in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens “on the basis of residence within the State”—unless the same in-state rates are offered to all citizens of the United States.