Gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee reiterated his strong opposition to extending in-state tuition discounts to illegal immigrant students in a statement to The Tennessee Star on Wednesday:
It is unfortunate that Washington and Congress have failed us on this issue.
While I have deep compassion for any young person facing challenges, I believe a governor’s primary duty is to enforce and defend the rule of law. And extending a taxpayer-funded benefit to illegal immigrants that we would not extend to an American citizen makes the problem that congress has left to the states even worse. For those reasons, I would veto this bill.
The bill to which Lee is referring is HB2429, sponsored by State Rep Mark White (R-Memphis), which would provide in-state tuition to illegal immigrant students by changing the definition of “public benefit.” White’s bill passed the Education Subcommittee Tuesday on a voice vote without discussion.
This is not the first time Lee has spoken out against proposals to provide in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. As The Star reported in January, while at the SCORE Gubernatorial Forum, one of the questions posed by moderator Rory Johnson asked the candidates about their positions on the controversial idea, and answers fell along traditionally partisan lines.
“Proposed legislation to offer in-state tuition to undocumented students that graduate from Tennessee high schools has failed in recent years. Let’s assume Congress passes DACA but leaves the question of things such as tuition up to the states. What would you do or not do when it comes to access to higher education for so-called Dreamers?” Johnson asked.
Lee said, “I also know that our primary responsibility and my responsibility as Governor is to take care of the citizens of Tennessee. For me it’s really just an issue of fairness. It doesn’t seem fair to me that we would offer something in college tuition to an immigrant that was here illegally that we wouldn’t offer to an American citizen from Georgia. So I would be opposed to in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.”
Tennessee Star polling of likely Republican primary voters who are opposed to providing taxpayer subsidized in-state college tuition to illegal immigrant students increased between June to December 2017, from 84 percent to 88 percent – while support has decreased – from 11 percent to 6 percent.
On Wednesday, gubernatorial candidate Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-06) also announced she would veto State Rep. White’s in-state tuition for illegal immigrants students bill.
The Harwell campaign and the Boyd campaign have not responded to requests by The Star for comment on the Education Subcommittee’s passage of the in-state tuition for illegal immigrant students bill.