In 2001, the Texas Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Perry signed one of this state’s most important, humane and sensible pieces of legislation.
It was referred to as the Texas Dream Act, and it allows for illegal immigrants’ children graduating from Texas public schools to enroll in state universities at the in-state tuition fee.
Many of the lawmakers who have convened for the 84th legislative session in Austin have vowed to repeal that landmark law, an action that would not be in the best interest of our children — yes, our children — or the state as a whole.
In fact, it would be downright foolish. But, frankly, I’m expecting a lot of foolishness from this Legislature, as many members fervently pursue what they feel is their voter-mandated conservative agenda.
Repealing the act and forcing undocumented students to pay higher out-of-state tuition is some lawmakers’ way of carrying out their promises of getting tough on immigration.
And while some would say their stand is based on sound fiscal and legal policies, it is not a stretch to believe that such a mean-spirited position is rooted in the ever-so-fertile soil of anti-immigrant bias.
Despite how one might feel about illegal immigration, it ought to be understood that children who are here, legally or otherwise, ought to be educated, for that is the best way to ensure that they become contributing members of our society.
We’ve long recognized, and the courts have upheld, that children of undocumented residents must be admitted to our public schools. Once they graduate from high school, they should be allowed to go to college without encountering unnecessary barriers such as having to pay higher tuition rates than their high school classmates.
The 2001 law says undocumented students should be charged in-state tuition if they have lived in Texas for three years, graduated from a Texas high school and sign an affidavit pledging to set a path toward legal residency and U.S. citizenship.
Needless to say, the whole concept of “path to citizenship” is offensive to some people, because they see that as “amnesty.”
Republicans attending their state convention in Fort Worth last year included repeal of the Texas Dream Act in the party platform.
Within 10 years after the bill’s passage, there were almost 16,500 illegal immigrants enrolled in Texas colleges and paying resident tuition rates, according to a 2012 report by The Dallas Morning News. One in seven of them received some form of state financial aid.
I’d like to think that our state lawmakers would abandon the idea of trying to punish these students who are seeking a higher education. A college degree prepares them to be even more valuable residents who will be giving back to this state rather than taking from it.
Unfortunately, it will be hard for people like new Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to back away from some of those campaign manifestos that so impressed the base of the Republican Party. He is likely to make good on his pledge to repeal the act.
With an even greater GOP majority, such a bill is likely to pass easily in both houses of the Legislature.
This is one time when I wish our new governor, Greg Abbott, would be more like his predecessor, Perry, and take a stand against this repeal idea. At the very least, the governor ought to veto repeal legislation if it gets to his desk.
But sadly our new governor declared during the campaign that he would not veto it.
Oh, how I pray for some state leaders with a little more heart and a lot more sense.
Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775