SB 1819, which was heard in the Senate Border Security Subcommittee on Monday, is a bill that denies educational opportunities to Texas students.
Before I go into detail about the bill, it’s important to understand the context.
DREAMers, who have lived most of their lives in Texas as immigrants without status, are college and university students. They can be eligible to receive in-state tuition under a law passed in 2001, HB 1403. Now, under pressure from far-right Republican primary voters, the Senate is poised to vote to repeal that law.
Before the full Senate can vote upon the bill — and note also that it must pass the House, then be signed by the Governor before it would become effective — it must be heard in committee.
What is this bill about?
Now refer back to the opening sentence. This bill, which is about higher education, is instead being heard in the Senate Border Security Subcommittee. This is very disappointing.
I am aware that our Senate Committees don’t have jurisdictional statements, but common sense should prevail. There is not one single piece of evidence that suggest DREAMers pose a threat to the border or to Texas. In fact, three other bills with the same or similar language have been referred to the Higher Education or State Affairs committees.
It creates an inaccurate perception of students, and, intended or not, sends a message that we are playing political games with important legislation.
Policy over politics
I believe Texas got it right in 2001 when we became the first of 18 states to provide in-state tuition for students who are not U.S. citizens. Known as Texas DREAMERs, these students have attended a Texas school for at least three years, graduated from high school, and signed a sworn statement that they will seek legal residency when available.
By doing so, they are eligible to receive the in-state tuition rate, providing they meet all other academic qualifications for college or university.
This great accomplishment was one that had overwhelming bipartisan support in both houses in 2001. Members of the 77th Legislature recognized that, by passing HB 1403 with 142 votes in the House and 27 votes in the Senate, Texas would be investing in its future. It was signed and supported by then Gov. Rick Perry.
SB 1819 undermines both the spirit of bipartisanship embodied by the 77th legislature and the best interest of the state by demonizing those who have earned the right to pay in-state tuition by doing well in Texas schools, gaining admission, and paying taxes in Texas.
Education and the economy
Ultimately, our economic future depends on educating these young people.
Each person who attends college, gains employment authorization, and obtains a professional job adds value to Texas, whether through their income and spending or through their attractiveness to employers seeking to relocate or expand.
In 2011, immigrants of all status contributed $65 billion in economic output to the state in terms of wages, salary, and business earnings. In 2010, undocumented immigrants in Texas paid an estimated $1.6 billion in state and local taxes. In part, these taxes help support Texas institutions of higher education.
These Texas students without status are not a drain on state funds; they must pay for college like everyone else. In FY 2013, undocumented students contributed $51.6 million in tuition fees, $30.5 million more than the formula funding of $21.1 million.
These students also are not receiving any special treatment. They must meet the same academic criteria and financial need as any other Texan applying for in-state tuition to attend an institution of higher education.
Achieving the future
In fact, since 2001, students benefiting from HB 1403 have excelled, graduating at 63 percent, as compared to the state average of 59 percent. They have earned more than 10,000 degrees from the state’s public institutions of higher education.
Hundreds of them came to the hearing today to speak. Their sentiment was captured by Luis Hernandez, who said: “Keeping in-state tuition gives undocumented students an opportunity to prove how impactful we can be.”
As we hear the testimony of these students, leaders, and advocates, Texans have to ask themselves: What is this really about?
The answer should be that it’s about giving students an opportunity. It’s about the future.