Tennessee Republicans Surprise Even Themselves With Tuition Help For Immigrants

At the federal level, the DREAM Act would even grant legal status to some undocumented aliens who attend college. While Congress hasn't passed such legislation, some states have passed their own DREAM Acts, offering scholarships to immigrants. In 2012, the governor of Massachusetts made a policy change to allow instate tuition to undocumented aliens. Credit: Antonio Villaraigosa via Flickr

At the federal level, the DREAM Act would even grant legal status to some undocumented aliens who attend college. While Congress hasn’t passed such legislation, some states have passed their own DREAM Acts, offering scholarships to immigrants. In 2012, the governor of Massachusetts made a policy change to allow instate tuition to undocumented aliens. Credit: Antonio Villaraigosa via Flickr

There’s movement in the Tennessee legislature on proposals giving in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants and even to undocumented aliens themselves.

A bill sponsored by Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) would offer the children born in the U.S. – making them legal citizens – a break on tuition at public colleges. Currently, they have to pay out-of-state rates, which can be more than double.

“Never before in our history – that I know of – have we punished children for what their parents did or didn’t do,” Gardenhire said in a hearing Wednesday. “We’re talking about these children.”

Gardenhire got enough votes on the Senate Education Committee to move forward – 6 for, 3 against.

His second bill may have a tougher time. It would give the same tuition break to illegal immigrants who went to high school in Tennessee but weren’t born here. He says they deserve to get some government help since they pay many of the same taxes.

“It is a big difference there than someone who illegally crossed the border and came in here, offering it to that person in particular,” says Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey. “That’s a big difference.”

Still, Ramsey won’t rule out his support for either bill, saying he needs to study them. He hadn’t given tuition help for immigrants much consideration because he never thought the proposals would go anywhere in the legislature.

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