The Fight for the Texas Dream Act


More than 150 students and Dream Act supporters rallied in front of the Federal Office Building in downtown Los Angeles, California, on Friday, June 15, 2012, to voice their support for President Obama’s decision to halt the deportation of young illegal immigrants. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Texas was one of the first states to offer in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants as a part of the Dream (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act fourteen years ago.

The act grants undocumented immigrants in the United States conditional residency and upon meeting further qualifications, permanent residency. Since then, almost 25,000 undocumented students currently pay in-state tuition, totaling more than $51 million, at colleges across Texas.

In March, Mr. Heineman, ARS college advisor, spent a day lobbying against a piece of legislation that would the repeal of the DREAM Act.

This piece of legislation is a Senate bill known as SB 1819, sponsored by Texas Republican Senators Donna Campbell, Tom Creighton, and Lois Kolkhorst, would repeal the 2001 provision known as the Texas Dream Act, or HB 1403That law — approved nearly unanimously fourteen years ago — allows for undocumented students who have lived in Texas for at least three years, and pledge to apply for legal status as soon as they can under federal law, to pay in-state tuition rates.

Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) defends SB 1819 by arguing that “when the in-state tuition law was passed, it was expected to benefit about 735 students. That number has swelled to almost 25,000 now — about 2 percent of the state’s [Texas’s] college-student population — and made it a magnet that encourages illegal immigration.”

The Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner Raymund Paredes said in an interview with the Texas Tribune in April that there was no evidence that the Texas Dream Act encourages illegal immigration in Texas.

“All of the evidence suggests that the drivers are overwhelmingly economic,” Paredes said. He added that it’s usually only when immigrants begin to assimilate after being in the country for years that they seek to become college educated.

Students and three of writers of the Dream Act turned out to protest SB 1819 on April 13th of this year, when SB 1819 was being read in the Senate’s subcommittee on border security. (This committee is composed of two Republicans and one Democrat.) The primary author of the bill and former Rep Rick Noriega (D-Houston) attended the rally, reminded people why the Texas Dream Act was enacted in the first place.

“We are standing here to … remind ourselves and educate folks on why we did this in the first place: because it was good public policy, because it was good for the state of Texas, because it was the morally right thing to do,” Noriega said.

At the rally, Lizeth Urdiales, an ethnic studies junior at the University of Texas, described growing up in Texas as an undocumented student and the opportunities that the Texas Dream Act provided her.

“I didn’t know HB 1403 existed until I was in the tenth grade, and that was amazing for me because I finally knew I had an opportunity to go to college — that the straight A’s I had in high school weren’t for nothing,” Urdiales said. “It led me to go to The University of Texas on a full ride scholarship.”

There have been similar surges for legislation granting illegal immigrants the right to an in-state tuition is states like California and Illinois. The efforts come in the wake of at least twenty-one states with laws or policies allowing unauthorized immigrants to pay resident tuition rates at public institutions. These states are taking the lack of a federal DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for some immigrant U.S. high school graduates, into their own hands as the federal legislation has been stalled in Congress.

For now though, the bill that threatens the Texas Dream Act sits in the Senate, awaiting further action.