Students Plead with Hardliners to Keep DREAM Act

University of Texas-Pan American student Nahiely Garcia speaks at rally in support of Texas DREAM Act in January
Kelsey Jukam
University of Texas-Pan American student Nahiely Garcia speaks at rally in support of Texas DREAM Act in January

Update: Senators voted on party lines early Tuesday morning to send SB 1819 to the full Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

Original: During a debate over the repeal of the so-called Texas DREAM Act, Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) said in-state tuition at Texas colleges and universities acts as a magnet for undocumented immigrants.

“[The Texas DREAM Act] is bad policy that rewards illegal immigration in perpetuity,” Campbell said as she laid out Senate Bill 1819, which would shut down the program.

Several experts who testified against the bill, including Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes, disagreed.

“We have absolutely no evidence that in-state tuition acts a magnet for undocumented immigrants,” Paredes said.

The act, passed in 2001, allows undocumented students who graduate from Texas high schools and who have been in the state at least three years to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities

Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) said that Campbell’s bill unfairly punishes hard-working students who were brought to Texas as children and will have negative economic consequences for the state.

“Our economic future depends on educating these young people,” Rodriguez said while observing the hearing from the dais.

Rodriguez also objected to the bill being heard in the Border Security Subcommittee of the Veterans Affairs and Military Installations Committee rather than the Higher Education Committee. Two of the three members of the subcommittee, Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) and  Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), have taken a hard line on border security and immigration.

“There is not one single shred of evidence that suggests that DREAMers are a threat to the border or to Texas,” Rodriguez said. “I think this sends an inaccurate message about these students.”

Dozens of those students, many wearing graduation caps and gowns, waited hours to testify against Campbell’s bill.

Blanca Leyva, a sophomore at Texas A&M University, testified that she has been in the country for more than 14 years and graduated from her Dallas high school as valedictorian. She said she wouldn’t be able to attend college if not for the DREAM Act.

“As DREAMers we simply want to be successful. We want a better life. I want a better life,” Leyva said.

Texas became the first state to offer in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants almost 15 years ago, and at least 17 other states have followed suit. Almost 25,000 undocumented students currently pay in-state tuition, totaling more than $51 million, at colleges across Texas.

The law initially attracted widespread bipartisan support and was signed into law by former Gov. Rick Perry. In 2011, during presidential run, Perry took a lot of flak from fellow conservatives for defending the law.

“If you say that we should not educate children who come into our state for no other reason than that they’ve been brought here through no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” Perry said.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has made repeal of the DREAM Act a legislative priority. With the Senate’s repeal of the two-thirds rule in January, Campbell’s bill is expected to pass the Senate.

Under the two-thirds rule, bills could not be brought up for debate without the approval of 21 of 31 Senators. The Senate is composed of 20 Republicans and  and 11 Democrats.

Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) said the “heartless” bill would face an uphill battle in the House.

“We stand ready to fight with our Senate colleagues against this draconian bill,” Rodriguez said. “Should it get to the House floor, it will be a heck of a fight.”

If the bill passes out of the subcommittee as expected, it will move on to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

John Savage is a writer based in Austin.

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Published at 7:59 pm CST