Gardenhire and White Broaden Scope of In-State Tuition Bill to Cover More Illegal Immigrant Students, Including ‘Unaccompanied Alien Children’

State Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) and State Rep. Mark White (R-Chattanooga) have broadened the scope of the 2017 version of the in-state tuition for illegal immigrant students bill they have introduced to the current session of the Tennessee General Assembly.

The 2015  Gardenhire/White bill that would have given in-state tuition to illegal immigrant students was restricted to grantees of Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The 2017 version of the bill now applies to illegal immigrant students classified in the “Unaccompanied Alien Child” (UAC) category of immigration status.

In his much publicized radio meltdown with WWTN’s Ralph Bristol on Friday, Sen. Gardenhire described an illegal immigrant his bill would provide in-state tuition benefits to as “somebody that’s got a 4.0 average, was the valedictorian of their class.”

But some UACs who would potentially be eligible for these taxpayer funded tuition breaks are not exactly the model citizens Gardenhire described.

In 2013, sixteen year old Edwin Mejia, a UAC from Honduras, was transported to Tennessee and released into the custody of his brother, an illegal immigrant living north of Nashville in Madison, Tennessee. The following year the two brothers moved to Nebraska where Edwin struck and killed 21-year old Sarah Root  while he was drunk and street racing in his truck. Root had just graduated from college. Mejia posted bond and left town.

He is currently on the “Wanted List” of the Office of Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the Department of Homeland Security.

Had Edwin stayed in Tennessee for at least two years, graduated from a Tennessee high school and registered to attend a “state institution of higher education,” he would be eligible for in-state tuition under the 2017 version of Gardenhire/White bill.

While the 2015 Gardenhire/White bill that was limited to illegal immigrants in the DACA program passed the Senate, it failed in the House, coming up  one vote short of the constitutionally required 50 vote minimum.

Before the Senate Education Committee passed  SB1014,  the 2017 version of his bill that extends in-state tuition privileges to UACs like Edwin Mejia, Sen. Gardenhire noted that this year’s version of the bill deleted any prior references to DACA requirements. The fiscal note to his bill, confirms however, that SB1014 “[e]xempts undocumented students from paying out-of-state tuition.”

As currently written, the bill passed by the Senate Education Committee last week and is scheduled in the House subcommittee, broadens its application to any and all students in Tennessee who have attended school in Tennessee for the two years immediately prior to graduation from high school that can be a Tennessee high school, completing a GED or HiSET from any state approved institution or organization, or completing high school in a Tennessee home school.  A student would also have to be already attending a state institution of higher education or registered to start. 

Given the explicit statement of the fiscal note, the bill would apply to any student who crossed the border illegally whether with or without an adult. One group of illegal border crossers that have been transported to  Tennessee are classified as “Unaccompanied Alien Child (UAC).”

As defined by federal law a UAC is:

“a child who has no lawful immigration status in the United States; has not attained 18 years of age; and, with respect to whom, there is no parent or legal guardian in the United States, or no parent or legal guardian in the United States available to provide care and physical custody.”

During the 2014 UAC border surge that brought 1,294 UACS to Tennessee, Holly Johnson, director of Catholic Charities’ Tennessee Office for Refugees which operates the refugee resettlement program in the state, admitted that her agency helps link UACs to their family members in Tennessee.

Eben Cathey, speaking on behalf of the TN Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), explained further, that the UACS were not simply “getting dropped off. They’re getting placed with their mom, dad, aunt or uncle.”

In 2015, the UAC arrivals to Tennessee dropped to 765 but increased to 1,354 in 2016. Arrival numbers stopped being reported in January 2017 which at that point in time included 687 arrivals to Tennessee.

Overall, reported data shows that the majority of UACs come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The overwhelming majority of arrivals are boys between 15 – 17 years old.






Related posts

9 Thoughts to “Gardenhire and White Broaden Scope of In-State Tuition Bill to Cover More Illegal Immigrant Students, Including ‘Unaccompanied Alien Children’”

  1. […] 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 […]

  2. […] Gardenhire and White Broaden Scope of In-State Tuition Bill to Cover More Illegal Immigrant Students…’ . […]

  3. […] Mark White’s bill, HB863 that would allow illegal immigrant students to pay in-state college tuition in Tennessee, scheduled […]

  4. […] Bill to Cover More Illegal Immigrant Students, Including ‘Unaccompanied Alien Children’ March 29, 2017 Chris Alto State Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) and State Rep. Mark White […]

  5. Sarah R

    If this bill costs no money, then why don’t we eliminate the “in-state” tuition discount altogether and just charge all students the lower amount?

    1. Gina Davis

      That is s great idea. It has been brought up before. It would solve many problems.

  6. Wolf Woman

    Gardenhire doesn’t care about the problems that could occur with illegal alien students at our colleges. He’s a wealthy, entitled rhino who wants the illegal’s and Chamber of Commerce votes and who feels self-righteous about helping a poor, disenfranchised minority who have broken the law to come here. His family doesn’t live with them, go to school with them or interact on a daily basis with them. He’s part of the protected class.

    When questioned by radio commentator Ralph Bristol about the purpose of the bill, he all he could do was to repeat ideological talking points and then have melt-down rant. Gardenhire is an elitist who would rather help lawbreakers than give a break to citizens from neighboring states (like the agreements between the Northwestern states on in-state tuition). His misplaced loyalties have outed him traitor to his native state.

    1. Gina Davis

      The error in thinking is that these are tax funded tuition breaks when in reality we are simply allowing students to attend college, paying in state tuition. Many of these students have grown up in Tennessee and attended school from kindergarten through 12th grade. They are TN kids who do not even remember their birth country. The sad reality is that they graduate from high school and are unable to attend a university or even a community college due to the exorbitant cost of out of state tuition. This bill not only costs NO MONEY, it will bring in tuition revenue from students who could otherwise not attend school. These students are still not eligible for financial aid of any kind. They would simply be allowed to pay in state tuition. As a parent, an educator, and a TN resident, I believe it is to our benefit to educate the people who live in our state. And it is also the right thing to do.