On Monday, scores of activists on both sides of the aisle came to Austin to testify on the matter of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, a controversial state law since its passage in 2001. Lawmakers heard testimony from conservatives favoring repeal of the policy as well as from a number who advocated to keep the measure.
The Senate Subcommittee on Border Security conducted a hearing on SB 1819. Authored by State Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), the legislation would require Texas universities to charge illegal immigrants the same out-of-state tuition rate charged to legal U.S. students from other states such as Oklahoma and Louisiana.
Current Texas law, approved by both Democrats and Republicans in 2001, allows illegal immigrants who have resided in the state for at least three years and obtained a high school diploma or GED to pay the in-state tuition rate. Advocates maintain that the procedure is a smart investment for Texans—that without it immigrants could serve as drains on the welfare system.
However, the Texas Republican Party platform and vocal critics disagree with such a claim. Instead, they assert that the preferential treatment serves as a magnet for further illegal immigration.
“We have spent $600 million on border security over the past couple of years, but we’ve still seen an immigration,” said Campbell. “This policy we have right now entices and incentivizes further illegal immigration. That’s not investment, that’s gaming the system.”
At the hearing, Campbell argued that, when the in-state tuition law was passed, it was expected to benefit only a small amount of students. Initial enrollment pegged the figure at only 735 students. However, in recent years, that number has boomed to around 25,000 — roughly 2 percent of the state’s college-student population. With limited capacity in Texas’ University system, Campbell argues that such numbers take seats away from qualified Texans seeking a college education.
The hearing dragged on into the early morning as over 150 individuals who had signed up to testify were heard. In the end, Campbell’s legislation advanced on a party line vote. Republican State Sens. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) and Bob Hall (R-Canton) voted for the bill while State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville) voted against the legislation. The measure will now advance to the full Veterans Affairs and Military Installation Committee of the Texas Senate.
Though repealing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants has the support of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and will likely pass out of committee, it isn’t certain if the votes exist on the Senate floor to pass. However, the legislation is largely presumed dead on arrival in the Texas House where Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) is ardently opposed to its repeal.
“You can’t just legislate based on campaign slogans or headlines,” said Straus.
After delaying for months and refusing to refer bills to Committee, Straus then referred House bills by Republican State Reps. Stickland, Zedler, Fallon, Keough, and Scott Turner relating to repeal of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants to the State Affairs Committee. The measure is surely doomed on arrival as the committee is stacked with Democrats and liberal Republicans. Chairing the committee is State Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) who has authored legislation that would grant illegal immigrants Texas driver’s licenses.