Recently, the Florida legislature voted to join other states, including Texas, in allowing undocumented students who have met certain residency requirements to pay in-state tuition. Of course, there has been the usual, one-sided reactionary viewpoint that claims this measure is unfair to students who are citizens and do not live within the state. This would be because they have to pay out-of-state tuition rates, which are admittedly exorbitant. Supporters of statewide versions of the DREAM Act are not entirely good samaritans themselves; after all, those in favor of an in-state tuition bill are all too often only seeking to gain favor with the Hispanic community for the next election. But while Florida shines a light of hope for undocumented students, the light could possibly be dimming for Texas “dreamers.”
The victory of state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, in the GOP primary runoff election for lieutenant governor has brought about the possibility of greatly limiting access to higher education to undocumented students because of their illegal status. This despite the fact that most, if not all, of these undocumented students most likely came to Texas as children with no choice in the matter. The candidate for the powerful office, which wields unmatched power over the Texas Senate, has vowed to repeal the in-state tuition bill signed and actively supported by Gov. Rick Perry, a fellow Republican. Although Patrick has successfully exploited the irrational fear among conservative voters that undocumented immigrants are the sole cause for the high prevalence of drugs, violence and disease in Texas, his Tea Party pandering actually works against the benefit of our state.
Students who benefit from the in-state tuition bill undoubtedly make positive contributions to society. Upon graduating, they serve the community in professional capacities and directly contribute to the economy, even while maintaining undocumented status by paying sales and property taxes, which are unavoidable regardless of citizenship status. Repeal of the in-state tuition bill would make higher education less accessible to undocumented students, thereby making gainful employment a further struggle.
Congratulations, Florida, for not only making a move that shows compassion to undocumented students, but also creates conduits for these students to become productive citizens. Hopefully, Patrick doesn’t induce the Legislature to reverse course on a program that gives undocumented students a shot at a better life.
Davis is an associate editor.