In-State Tuition for Illegal Immigrants Sends Wrong Message, Immigration Reform Advocate Says

A Tennessee Republican lawmaker is pushing another bill that would give illegal immigrants a taxpayer-funded break on college tuition — a move, according to one immigration reform advocate, that sends the message that the Volunteer State is turning a blind eye to the law.

State Senator Todd Gardenhire’s (R-Chattanooga) bill is being sold as an inducement to deal with Tennessee’s teacher shortage. The measure, introduced in the House by State Representative Yusuf Hakeem (D-Chattanooga), would provide in-state tuition to students “without lawful immigration status,” as well as out-of-state residents, if they commit to a teacher prep program.

That’s a significant savings, with the difference borne by loans through the Tennessee Student Assistance Corp., the designated federal guaranty agency responsible for the administration of post-secondary educational loan programs.

If a student signs the loan agreement to teach in a Tennessee public school for at least five years, their student loan will be forgiven.

But the illegal immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program cannot honestly and in good faith commit to a five-year term of employment as a public teacher. Their work authorization and deferral for deportation is only for a temporary two-year period. If they fail to renew or their DACA renewal is denied, the illegal immigrants risk deportation.

“Those with DACA are not lawfully here. It doesn’t give them legal immigration status, they are still here illegally,” Shari Rendall director of State and Local Engagement for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), told The Tennessee Star in an interview Tuesday.

FAIR has opposed the in-state tuition proposal in its previous iterations. A similar bill pitched by Gardenhire died in 2018.

Rendall said the latest measure, which was assigned to the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee this week, hurts taxpayers, students, and the public higher education system alike, which rely on out-of-state tuition even more so in the face of budget and programming cuts.

“Students and taxpayers should not be made to shoulder this burden, especially because illegal aliens have flagrantly violated our immigration laws,” Rendall said, adding the benefit to illegals could put the state in a precarious legal position because it discriminates against those who legally reside in the United States.

Gardenhire has blamed the failure of his previous tuition legislation on lawmaker reticence, misinformation from his GOP colleagues in the House and an increasingly political process.

“The House leadership in the last five years has consistently not wanted this bill to move forward,” he told The Tennessean following the demise of his 2018 measure. “There’s people … [who] have put out a tremendous amount of misinformation about what this bill does and what it doesn’t do.”

Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, has said “setting up additional benefits for illegal immigrants is the wrong strategy.” As a candidate in 2018, Lee said he would veto any bill giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.

But the immigration issues that fired up the 2018 gubernatorial election seem to have cooled in recent years, and it’s not entirely clear where Lee would end up on the bill these days.

Last year, the governor signed the so-called Workforce Expansion Bill giving illegal immigrants such as those with DACA status the ability to obtain licenses in nursing, social work, and other trades.

Rendall said such taxpayer-funded programs are a huge insult to the immigrants who are “doing things the right way,” going through the legal process to live and work in Tennessee.

“The people brought here as children under DACA, they may have gotten a raw deal, but it’s their parents’ fault for causing that raw deal,” the immigration reform advocate said. “It’s not up to the taxpayers of Tennessee to fix the bad deal their parents put on them.”

“It sends a message that if you violate immigration law, taxpayers are on the hook for fixing your situation,” she added.

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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Todd Gardenhire” by Sen. Todd Gardenhire. Background Photo “Classroom” by Wokandapix.


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3 Thoughts to “In-State Tuition for Illegal Immigrants Sends Wrong Message, Immigration Reform Advocate Says”

  1. LB

    It is time for TN to STOP being an Illegal Alien Criminal Invader MAGNET. We dont check construction sites, landscapers, etc. They get employed via those 3rd party hiring (labor) companies or a legal immigrant who hires them as a subcontractor…that way no one checks. There needs to be a serious investigation and employers need to be perp walked and exposed. REMOVE the incentives (looking at you Sanctuary Cities (Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville)

  2. JRin

    I have a better idea. NO admittance to higher education for illegal alien invaders. Those spaces are reserved for citizens and legal aliens.

  3. Randy

    Committing a crime and being rewarded with public benefit is part of the Democrat Party’s vision. Once again it matters who governs. I have compassion for the plight of people seeking a better life. Turning this country into a third world S… Hole is not the answer to their problems. They should consider fixing their country of origin. If they are unable to do that what expectation can you possibly have that they are going to benefit this one. Gardenhire and Hakeem could join them, they seem to have all the right stuff.