From Name-Calling To Help With College Tuition: Tennessee Lawmakers Soften On Immigrants

House Education Subcommittee Chairman Mark White doubts in-state tuition for Tennessee students whose families entered the U.S. illegally would've even been seriously discussed a few years ago. (Photo: Daniel Potter/WPLN)

House Education Subcommittee Chairman Mark White doubts in-state tuition for Tennessee students whose families entered the U.S. illegally would’ve even been seriously discussed a few years ago. (Photo: Daniel Potter/WPLN)

In a sea change on illegal immigration, Tennessee’s largely Republican legislature could allow in-state tuition rates for students whose families came to the U.S. without documentation.

In 2011, lawmakers touted bills to make Tennessee a less welcoming place for undocumented people; that’s around when Rep. Curry Todd compared them to breeding “rats” during an official meeting.  Todd was talking about birthright citizens, who are born in the U.S. to parents who entered illegally.

Now, Republican Mark White says they shouldn’t be charged out-of-state college tuition.  His bill is poised for floor votes in both the state House and Senate: “I’m not getting any pushback on this particular one, because, whatever your issue is on immigration reform, these are U.S. citizens.”

Such a bill is needed in part just to avoid exposing the state to the risk of a potential lawsuit, White says, though he’s not aware of any specific threat.

A broader proposal would extend in-state tuition to non-citizens who went to high school in Tennessee.  Other red states including Texas have approved similar measures.  Representative White doubts Tennessee will go that far this spring, but he says a few years ago, it wouldn’t have even been discussed.

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