The in-state tuition for illegal aliens issue is expected to be put on the legislative calendar in 2019. Its importance cannot be understated in light of the opening it creates to award additional state and local public benefits to illegal aliens in Tennessee.
The four candidates for the GOP gubernatorial nomination–Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd, Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-06), Williamson County businessman Bill Lee, and Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville)–are notably different in their approach to this issue.
During an April meet and greet in Memphis, Randy Boyd repeated his opposition to in-state tuition for illegal aliens – “I’m against in-state tuition for illegals.” Boyd’s claim doesn’t necessarily mean that as governor Boyd would stop an in-state tuition bill passed by the General Assembly from becoming law.
Both Diane Black and Bill Lee have affirmatively stated they would veto an in-state tuition bill.
Neither the Harwell campaign nor the Boyd campaign responded to The Tennessee Star’s question during the legislative session about the in-state tuition bill that was making its way through the committee process. Harwell did not cast a vote on the 2015 in-state tuition bill since she left the House floor almost immediately before the bill was brought up for a vote. The bill failed by a single vote.
Tennessee law classifies in-state tuition as a state benefit. According to Tennessee’s Attorney General, in order to award the in-state tuition to illegal aliens, the General Assembly must redefine Tennessee’s public benefits law by “enact[ing] legislation expressly making unlawful aliens eligible for public benefits, including in-state tuition.” Such a move would open legislating access to other public benefits by illegal aliens such as the Tennessee Promise last dollar scholarship and access to professional licenses.
Boyd’s statement of opposition to in-state tuition for illegal aliens exposes how he can take one position on the campaign trail but work behind the scenes with willing legislators to push through Haslam’s “Drive to 55” goals by filling higher education seats with illegal aliens paying the in-state tuition rate. In an earlier statement, Boyd conceded that based on the Attorney General’s opinion, the legislature “would probably have the right to make the decision” to award the in-state tuition rate to illegal aliens.
As recently demonstrated by Governor Haslam on the anti-sanctuary city bill, Boyd could allow an in-state tuition bill to languish for ten days and become law without his signature even though he currently says he opposes the measure. However, Boyd is campaigning on a promise that conflicts with his opposition to the in-state tuition issue. He has a stated goal to complete the “Drive to 55” education initiative, which his website says he created. As governor he would have the prerogative to flip on his claim of opposing in-state tuition and sign the bill in furtherance of his campaign promise.
Sponsors of the 2015 and 2017 in-state tuition bills, State Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) and State Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) justified their aggressive push on the bills claiming that unless a college education was made economically accessible to illegal aliens, the “Drive to 55” education goals will not be achieved.
In 2015, the in-state tuition bill passed the Senate but failed on the House floor by a single vote. In 2017, White and Gardenhire filed two bills using two different avenues to secure the in-state tuition rate for illegal alien students and White used his position as chairman of the House Education Subcommittee and less than subtle political maneuvering to try and ram the bill through the committee process.
Neither bill made it to a floor vote by the time the legislative session ended in 2018.
Gardenhire’s State Senate term doesn’t end until 2020 and White is expected to win his seat for a sixth term. In 2017, Haslam began to openly support getting an in-state tuition bill to his desk.
In 2016, while Boyd was still the Commissioner of Economic & Community Development, emails passed to The Tennessee Star, indicate that he was working behind the scenes to revive an in-state tuition bill.
State legislators working to get Boyd elected as governor voted for the in-state tuition bill during the legislative session that just ended. Boyd is also a named member of the Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE) that supports giving in-state tuition to illegal alien students.
The PNAE’s 2016 Tennessee specific report, claims that the “undocumented population” is a “small but critical role in the workforce.” The report’s data shows that in construction, 12% or 18,500 workers are illegal aliens and in the “accommodation and food” industry, 10% or approximately 13,122 workers are illegal aliens.
During the course of Haslam’s two terms, estimates from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) show that the illegal alien population in Tennessee increased by approximately 11% with an estimated 180,000 illegal aliens living in the state.
Employment and access to public benefits help attract illegal aliens. Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Employment Verification violation data shows that for the relatively few cases investigated, illegal aliens are working in Tennessee.
Tennessee Star / Triton polling consistently shows that Tennessee’s Republican primary voters are solidly opposed to extending the in-state tuition benefit to illegal aliens and from the June 2017 poll to the December 2017 poll, opposition to in-state tuition for illegal immigrant students among likely Tennessee Republican primary voters actually increased–from 84 percent to 88 percent–while support decreased–from 11 percent to 6 percent.