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Rick Perry Is Right on In-State Tuition for Immigrants in Texas

A Texas law supported by Republican presidential candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry to provide in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants when they attend college has gotten a lot of attention recently. It was the primary focus of several heated exchanges at last night’s debate and was widely criticized on Twitter as well, but Perry’s opponents and the media are giving an inaccurate picture of the law and its effects.

First of all, here’s a review of what the law actually entails.

Texas law permits a child who has lived in the state of Texas for at least three years and graduated from a state high school to qualify for in-state tuition at a Texas college or university, on the condition that the child agrees to pursue full citizenship.

Now let’s look at how many students qualified under this rule.

According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, in FY2010, 16,476 students qualified for in-state tuition under TEC 54.052(a)(3), the Texas statue governing this program. That number represents only one percent of total enrollment in Texas public universities; community, technical, and state colleges; and public health-related institutions.

Only one-percent. One-percent. The likes of Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and others would have you believe it was a program run amok where these students were defrauding a system, unfairly taking advantage of this status, and ruining higher education for every other Texan. In a state with more than a million students in public institutions of higher learning, 16,476 students is a drop in the bucket.

Despite what you may be lead to believe, this was not a highly partisan bill that narrowly squeaked by on a tight party-line vote in the Texas legislature. In fact, only four legislators voted against the measure. The national media, and those politicians from outside the state of Texas may be quick to criticize this law and label it as extremist, but in reality it’s not.

This program makes a difference by offering these kids a helping hand to a quality education they may not receive otherwise. It does not destroy the ability of other Texas to get into school. In the end, it doesn’t even make a significant impact on the budgets of these colleges and universities. For instance, the Permanent University Fund that supports the flagship universities in Texas gets a substantial portion of its money from oil. They own an immense amount of land in West Texas and that land happens to be rich in black gold, pumping reliable dollars into the coffers of these schools. Tuition only makes up about a quarter of their overall funding.

These students have lived in Texas, some the required three years, some nearly their entire lives. As part of this program students must have graduated from a Texas high school, most likely a public one, paid for in part by the state. Shouldn’t they have the chance to receive the same services at the rate that other students who graduated from a Texas high school do?

These children should not be punished for the illegal acts of their parents. Many families risk life and limb to get to America so their children can have the opportunity to attend college and achieve the American dream.

It may not be true in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, or Minnesota, but in Texas there are a high number of Hispanic immigrants, some of whom are illegal. The means by which they’re allowed to slip past a border all but neglected by the federal government is for another conversation, but the fact remains that they are here and serve as valued members of the community, and are an integral part of the Texas culture. Hispanics are not political pawns to be thrown around by candidates seeking to score cheap political points by demagoguing an entire race.

Besides the fact that Republicans will be shut out of power for ages to come if they alienate Hispanics, it’s entirely inappropriate and un-American to punish the children of immigrants who may have fled their dysfunctional, failing, or dangerous homeland for a better life here in America. These are students who only get this in-state tuition rate if they commit to becoming legal citizens. Their tuition isn’t waived altogether, it’s just provided at the rate that every other Texas resident pays.

Now I’m not lobbying for blanket amnesty, and neither was Rick Perry – he’s on record opposing the federal DREAM Act – but the picture of this legislation painted by his opponents in this election is entirely inaccurate. I’m sure someone from the Romney camp will read this and use his favorite line these days, “nice try,” but the statistics show this for what it truly is, a program that does not punish these students, these future citizens, whose parents came to this country illegally. Instead it helps them become educated, productive citizens of these United States.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

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