|AUSTIN, October 31 - William B. Travis, one of Texas’ founding fathers, was an undocumented immigrant.
Born in 1809 in South Carolina, he arrived in Texas - what was then northern Mexico - in 1831, after the Law of April 6, 1830, made his immigration illegal. The rest, of course, is history. Despite his undocumented status, he went on to become a prominent figure in Texas lore, sacrificing his life in 1836 as commander of Texas' forces defending the Alamo.
165 years later, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed the 2001 Texas DREAM Act, which authorizes in-state tuition for students who have lived in Texas for three years and either obtained a GED or were graduated from a Texas public school or accredited private school. In passing this landmark legislation with strong bipartisan support, Texas became the first state in the union to offer in-state college tuition to undocumented immigrants.
Twelve years ago, both Republicans and Democrats understood and were not afraid to recognize publicly the benefits that undocumented immigrants bring to our state, especially in terms of personal sacrifice, work ethic, and contributions to the economy.
Unfortunately, amidst recent calls to repeal the Texas DREAM Act, the most extreme right fringe of the Texas GOP has either forgotten or conveniently chosen to ignore this fact.
We believe the Act must be preserved.
Given that Texas relies primarily on its sales tax to fund state government and state-sponsored institutions of higher education, every time undocumented immigrants go to the grocery store or otherwise spend their hard-earned money, they are directly contributing not only to the economic well-being of the state, but also to those public colleges and universities it supports.
Indeed, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that undocumented immigrants in Texas contributed more than $1.6 billion in state and local taxes in 2010 alone, and a study by The Perryman Group found that Texas would lose $69.3 billion in economic activity, $30.8 billion in gross state product, and approximately 403,000 jobs if all undocumented immigrants were removed from the state.
By offering in-state tuition to young undocumented immigrants, we encourage these students to enroll in college and increase their earning potential, which, in turn, increases their odds of becoming productive contributing members to the Texas economy. This, in the words of Governor Perry, is the whole point behind the Texas DREAM Act: to allow immigrants to become "contributing members of our society, rather than be on the dole."
But the Texas DREAM Act is justified by more than just economics. There also is the issue of fairness. Defending against attacks from his own party in 2012’s presidential primaries, Perry stated, "To punish these young Texans for their parents' actions is not what America has always been about. If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart."
We believe that which benefits Latino Texans benefits all Texans. By granting undocumented students in-state tuition, Texas serves as a positive example to the rest of the nation, while advancing its own economic and cultural interests.
Preserving the Texas DREAM Act is not only the fiscally responsible thing to do, but also the fair thing to do. We encourage public officials of all political and philosophical stripes to embrace this law and the people it was designed to help. They should not run away from the morally correct position on this issue for fear of political reprisal, just as Travis did not run away from his duty at the Alamo.
The above guest column was penned by state Senators Rodney Ellis, Sylvia Garcia, Juan Hinojosa, Eddie Lucio, Jr., Jose Rodriguez, Carlos Uresti, Leticia Van de Putte, Kirk Watson, Royce West, John Whitmire, and Judith Zaffirini. All are Democrats.