Keeping the DREAM Alive - Higher Education
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Keeping the DREAM Alive

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by Dina M. Horwedel

Keeping the DREAM Alive
A state reciprocity agreement facilitates in-state tuition for undocumented students in New Mexico and Colorado.

Dina M. Horwedel

When Congress killed the immigration bill earlier this summer, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was one casualty as a component of that bill. But, as reported in Diverse in July, advocacy groups say they will not abandon efforts to pass the bill this fall and are gearing up for the impending fight.

“The next few months are critical after Congress resumes its session,” says Melissa Lazarin, associate director for education policy at the National Council of La Raza, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. Because like many issues, she says, the DREAM Act could get lost in the shuffle as the presidential election eclipses national media attention.

The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) says the DREAM Act is still needed to allow the 65,000 American-raised, but undocumented students that graduate from high school each year to apply for conditional residence status. These students would be eligible for conditional residence for a maximum of six years after graduating from high school if they complete at least two years of college and work toward a four-year degree or commit to at least two years of military service.

The DREAM Act would also eliminate a federal provision that discourages states from providing in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. This provision has the potential to help undocumented students afford an education. Under federal law, undocumented students do not qualify for federal and, in some cases, state financial aid, including grants or loans, Lazarin says.

However, 10 states have circumvented federal law and established more flexible regulations to allow undocumented students to receive in-state tuition rates.

“The problem is now some states are being pushed to reverse the legislation,” possibly due to the fact that immigration is a political “hot potato,” says Dr. Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU).

He adds that Connecticut’s Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell recently vetoed a bill that would have granted in-state tuition to undocumented students. On her Web site is the statement: “I understand these students are not responsible for their undocumented status, having come to the United States with their parents. The fact remains, however, that these students and their parents are here illegally and neither sympathy nor good intentions can ameliorate that fact.”

Policies Vary By State
New Mexico is one state that does not preclude in-state tuition eligibility if a student is an undocumented immigrant. Susan McKinsey, director of communications at the University of New Mexico-Albuquerque, says that the law “ … states that any tuition rate or state-funded financial aid granted to residents of New Mexico shall also be granted on the same terms to all persons, regardless of immigration status, who have attended New Mexico high schools for one year and have graduated or received a graduate equivalency degree.”

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Neighboring Colorado passed a law that took effect last fall that prohibits state colleges from providing in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, although some undocumented students in the state can still qualify for in-state tuition rates in New Mexico because, according to McKinsey, Colorado has a reciprocal agreement with New Mexico. The 1985 agreement allows a certain number of students to enroll at designated state institutions in both states and pay in-state tuition rates.

“In fall 2006, four undocumented students from Colorado qualified for and were admitted to UNM,” McKinsey says. “Seven have qualified for and are eligible for admission this coming fall.” In addition, she says another New Mexico regulation allows any student to take six hours at an institution of higher education in New Mexico and pay in-state tuition rates.

The seven students admitted for the upcoming semester have also been offered the in-state tuition rate under the agreement.

“This has been reviewed by Colorado Higher Ed and they have determined these students are eligible for the reciprocal program,” says McKinsey.

She explains that two of the Colorado students received private scholarships designated for out-of-state students and won these scholarships based solely on academic achievement. She also says no scholarships have been given to any of the seven admitted 2007 students.

In July, The Denver Post published an article “Colorado Illegal Immigrants Will Get College Aid in N.M.,” which reported that students were receiving aid and scholarships intended for New Mexico residents to cover other school expenses. But McKinsey says the article was erroneous in suggesting that undocumented students are receiving scholarship money at UNM. “UNM has no scholarship for undocumented students as has been suggested,” she says.

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Demographic Shifts

Colorado has been on the front lines of the immigration debate. U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who is also a presidential candidate, has been outspoken about his hard-line stance on immigration.

His official Web site states: “I am 100 percent opposed to amnesty. As President, I will secure our borders so illegal aliens do not come, and I will eliminate benefits and job prospects so they do not stay.”

Yet, in August, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that Denver County, Colo., was one of the two largest counties in the country to pass a threshold (between July 2005 and July 2006): non-White Hispanics now compose 50.1 percent of the population in Denver County, making it, along with approximately 300 other U.S. communities, a majority-minority county.

Although the number of undocumented Hispanics in Colorado is unknown, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that one-fifth of all Hispanics in the United States lack legal status.

Last November, Arizona voters approved by a margin of 71.4 percent a referendum, Proposition 300, to deny in-state tuition and financial aid to unauthorized immigrants attending public colleges in the state. Notably, Maricopa County, Arizona, had the biggest numerical increase in the Hispanic population: 71,000 since July 2005, according to the Census Bureau. Prior to the proposition’s passage, Arizona colleges were not required to ask students about their citizenship status.

“The DREAM Act will impact hundreds of thousands of high-achieving individuals that could be a tremendous asset to the country, because of their talent, good record and citizenship,” says Flores, adding that they will not give up lobbying Congress on the legislation.

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“We are going to keep our finger on the issue and will push it for next year’s session,” Flores says.

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In-State Vs. Out-of-State Tuition

California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Washington are the only 10 states that have passed laws to provide in-state tuition benefits to undocumented students, according to the American Association of Colleges and Universities policy updates. With the exception of California, most states circumvent the federal law by basing student eligibility requirements on attendance at an in-state high school rather than state residence.

All states have enacted similar criteria for eligibility. To receive in-state tuition, undocumented students must reside in or attend school in the state for a specified number of years, graduate from a high school in the state or complete a GED, and submit an affidavit stating intent to file for legal residency. Of the 10 states that have enacted this legislation, six redefine residency by focusing on high-school attendance rather than residence. The other four states exempt certain categories of students from paying out-of-state tuition, including undocumented students who meet the above
requirements.

Because of the contentious nature of the immigration debate, all 50 states have introduced some sort of legislation pertaining to the issue of in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Several states have introduced legislation that would bar undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition, including Virginia, where Republicans introduced legislation in late August.

Source: American Association for State Colleges and Universities; “In-State Tuition for Undocumented Immigrants: States’ Rights and Educational Opportunity,” A Higher Education Policy Brief, By Alene Russell, August 2007

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