|SAN JUAN, October 12 - Rather than oppose it, the four Republicans running for lieutenant governor should support in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants because of the economic contributions DREAMers make when they enter the workforce.
This is the view of Tania Chavez, a co-founder of the Minority Affairs Council at UT-Pan American.
“Texas stands to benefit most from the education of DREAM Act students. It has a real competitive advantage in allowing undocumented students to go to college and earn degrees,” Chavez, a DREAM Act student, told the Guardian.
Chavez pointed out Texas was the first state in the union to allow undocumented students to get in-state tuition to go to college. “Today, my bet is Texas is No. 1 for college graduates among undocumented students. Texas probably has the most Deferred Action eligible students with college degrees in our workforce today. This population of students is paying taxes. They are contributing to the community. Why take that away?” Chavez asked.
Chavez said she would never have been able to go to college if she had been made to pay out of state tuition fees. Chavez earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and a double master’s, one in business administration and the other in art and communication, at UTPA.
“Never in wildest dreams would I have been able to afford college if it had not been at the in-state tuition rate. In-state tuition paid for my basic tuition while scholarships paid for my room and board,” said Chavez, who, thanks to Deferred Action, can now work legally in the United States. She works as an administrator and special projects coordinator in a San Juan-based community group.
There are four Republican candidates running for lieutenant governor of Texas. One is the incumbent, David Dewhurst, another is Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, another is Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and the fourth is state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston. All four want to repeal a law passed in 2001 that allows undocumented immigrants to go to college at in-state tuition rates. The legislation, HB 1528, was passed by big majorities in the House and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry.
The in-state tuition law became a hot topic in the race for lieutenant governor when Patrick put out a TV ad that said he was “the only candidate for lieutenant governor to oppose in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.” Patterson immediately called Patrick a “liar” and said he had always opposed allowing undocumented immigrants to go to college at in-state tuition rates. A Dewhurst spokesman insisted that the incumbent “has always opposed in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.” Staples, a state senator in 2001, voted for the in-state tuition law. He said he would vote differently today. My vote was “predicated on the assumption those students would correct their status,” Staples said.
Chavez said many DREAMers, including herself, are now correcting their status thanks to President Obama’s Deferred Action plan. This allows undocumented immigrant students to work and travel legally in the United States.
Asked if she could fathom why the Republican lieutenant governor candidates would be so hostile to DREAMers when, at least in South Texas, they are so popular,” Chavez said: “It is not so much that DREAMers are popular. It is the potential of students who are undocumented to give back to the community. By taking away that opportunity you are handicapping the students and you are putting Texas at a loss. Right now, Texas is at a gain. These students can legally work.”
Asked if she was surprised the four Republican candidates would come out against the in-state tuition law, Chavez said: “No, because it is not the first time some Republicans have tried to repeal this piece of legislation. It has been under attack several times. But, I think it has prevailed because it is the right thing to do. Other states are following Texas’ lead. Why are we going to go backwards - we need to go forward.”
Asked if she would like to many any other comment about the lieutenant governor candidates, Chavez said: “I encourage everyone who can to get involved. We need to make sure we put the right people in office, those that defend our community.”
The stance taken by Dewhurst, Patterson, Patrick and Staples over in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrants has not gone over well with Republicans trying to attract more Hispanics to their column. Art Martinez de Vara, co-founder of the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans, defended the in-state tuition law and noted that was signed into law by Gov. Perry.
Speaking on KURV News Talk 710 on Friday, former state Rep. Aaron Peña said if the voting habits of Hispanics do not change, Texas will become a Democratic state. He said it was vital for Republicans to reach out to Hispanics and be careful about the tone and language they use. For example, he said claiming undocumented immigrants have calves the size of cantaloupes is “deeply offensive.” U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, made this remark. Attacking efforts to pass a national DREAM Act bill, King said that for every child of illegal immigrants “who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
Peña, who represented Edinburg as a Democrat before turning Republican towards the end of his legislative career, has been tapped by the Republican National Committee to lead Hispanic outreach in Texas.
“It is happening very, very, rapidly, the demographic changes. If we do not engage this emerging population, Hispanics, African American, Asian, we will lose this state. Imagine for moment we lose Texas. We have already lost California, we have lost Florida, we have lost Pennsylvania, we have lost Ohio; we have lost New York. You have lost the presidency for multiple lifetimes. If Texas goes then we lose and the Republican Party becomes a regional party of the Deep South and we only have a one-party country,” Peña said.