Florida and Texas are moving to repeal in-state college tuition for illegal immigrant students, including grantees of Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In Tennessee, two legislators will try a third time to give illegal immigrant students the in-state tuition benefit.
In 2014, Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) and Rep. Richard Floyd (R-Chattanooga) introduced the first bill, SB1951/HB1992 that tried to give in-state college tuition to illegal immigrant students living in Tennessee.
The bill was shelved and Rep. Floyd retired at the end of that legislative session.
In 2015, Sen. Gardenhire and Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) introduced SB612/HB675. During the bill’s debate they identified DACA grantees as the intended beneficiaries. The “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” was a unilateral directive issued by President Obama that granted a renewable two-year deferred deportation, work permit and social security number to individuals meeting the program’s criteria. DACA did not grant legal immigration status.
In committee Rep. White described DACA applicants as children brought to our state “when they were 2,3,4,5,6,7 years of age and they have grown up here due to no fault of their own.” According to the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs & Immigration (USCIS), DACA applicants must have entered the U.S. illegally before age 16, and be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012. There is nonrequirement that DACA applicants have entered the U.S. with family or other adults.
The Gardenhire/White bill passed the Senate 21-12. Despite a 49-47 House vote in favor of the bill it failed to achieve the constitutionally required 50 vote minimum.
This year’s, Gardenhire/White bill SB635/HB660, would authorize the new college and university governing boards to decide which students are eligible to pay in-state tuition rates.
“The bill is designed to allow each local community and institution to do what is best for their institution” is how Rep. White’s office described the bill in an email to the Tennessee Star.
Last year, the Tennessee legislature passed Governor Haslam’s FOCUS Act enabling the six universities in the Board of Regents system, including Tennessee Tech, Tennessee State University and MTSU to have their own boards that among other duties, will oversee tuition.
Another Gardenhire/White bill, SB1014/HB863 would extend the same discretion to any of the schools not covered by the other bill for determining which students can pay in-state tuition.
“This legislation [HB660] also exempts the extension of in-state tuition that this amendment provides from the definition of ‘state or local public benefit’ under the ‘Eligibility Verification for Entitlements Act'” according to an email statement from Paul Marsh in Rep. White’s office.
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) prohibits state colleges and universities from providing in-state tuition to illegal immigrants “on the basis of residence within the State” unless the same in-state rates are offered to all U.S. citizens.
When asked specifically whether Rep. White’s bill was intended to benefit DACA grantees, his office responded that “House Bill 660 does not make any reference to DACA.”
Rep. White’s 2015 bill also did not make any reference to DACA.
In response to the question of whether Rep. White’s bill would have the effect of sanctioning sanctuary campuses in Tennessee his office emailed that, “this legislation does not address sanctuary campuses.”