Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) applauded the testimony of an illegal immigrant student before the House Education committee moments before his bill to provide in-state tuition to all illegal immigrant students failed to pass the committee on Tuesday.
Karla Mesa Cruz from Knoxville told the committee today that she wants to go to UT Knoxville and get a law degree from UT Knoxville Law School. She told the committee that she had come to Knoxville when she was three but when she began to investigate going to college, learned that she would have to pay out-of-state tuition. She told the committee she just didn’t “understand why.”
Rep. Mark White told the committee that this was the third time he was trying to pass a bill that would allow illegal immigrant students to pay in-state tuition, because “it’s the right thing to do.”
Repeating many of the same talking points as in years past, White’s bill was defeated on a narrow vote of 7 against and 6 in favor on Tuesday. Democrats Raumesh Akbari, Johnnie Turner, John DeBerry and Craig Fitzhugh voted yes, joined by Republicans Mark White and Harry Brooks.
Republicans voting no were Jimmy Matlock, Eddie Smith, Terri Lynn Weaver, Dawn White, Debra Moody, Roger Kane and Ron Lollar.
During discussion of the bill, White noted that the students, whose illegal immigration status he scrupulously avoided mentioning, have no pathway to citizenship. They will not, he added, until Congress addresses the issue. Regardless, his guest Carla told the committee that her dream is to become a lawyer. While White focused on allowing the students to go on to higher education as a means to better employment, he never acknowledged that if their immigration status does not change, they cannot be legally employed in Tennessee.
Democrat members of the committee tried to sway their colleagues by using emotional tactics; Rep. Akbari started crying, Rep. Turner told her story about the racism directed to her when she was a student, and Rep. Fitzhugh said that the students “came in many different ways only to access what this country has to offer.”
In his closing comments, an emotional Rep.White asked his colleagues “what are we doing here?” He challenged his colleagues to vote regardless of re-election consequences and reminded them that he did not run this bill last year, an election year, “out of respect” for them. He also inferred that he may not run again in 2018.
Several committee members acknowledged that this would be a “close vote” and was likely the reason that Rep. White requested a voice vote adding that he didn’t want to “force people to go on the record” with a roll call vote. Chairman Brooks denied that request and a roll call vote was taken.