This week, the Trump administration resurfaced its targeting of sanctuary cities through a proposal to place detained immigrants and asylum seekers solely in the responsibility of sanctuary municipalities. The proposal is rooted in the notion that safeguarding undocumented immigrants perpetuates criminal activity. The correlation between these two actions, however, is largely unfounded. While difficult to assess crime rates among undocumented immigrants specifically, a number of research studies analyzed by the Cato Institute in March 2019 have concluded that overall immigrant crime rates are actually much lower than crime rates among native born populations. From a policy perspective, aligning undocumented immigrants with criminal activity is also counterproductive as establishing a diverse and inclusive American workforce proves beneficial for global competitiveness and a more robust national economy. The question that arises here, then, is: what do undocumented immigrants need in order to succeed as a part of the American workforce? One option may be through increasing college affordability.
The 2016 University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education College Affordability Diagnosis painted a daunting picture of the work ahead for colleges and universities in order to create more affordable pathways for middle- and low-income students, showing that colleges across the nation were becoming less affordable, and financial aid less effective, than ever before. Undocumented immigrants represent one such population that is eager to attend college, but faces greater financial burden to do so due to state policies that require them to pay higher tuition rates. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of January 2019, sixteen states and the District of Columbia, along with five state university systems offer in-state tuition benefits for undocumented students. States have continued to introduce and pass in-state tuition legislation for undocumented immigrants, even during a time of continued uncertainty regarding the continuance of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Since the start of 2019, there has been movement on twelve bills across eight states regarding in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. All twelve of the bills are inclusive measures that would extend tuition assistance to immigrant and undocumented individuals; and of the six discussed below, three did not progress before the end of the legislative session, two are still pending, and one has passed.
Introduced in January 2019, Pennsylvania Senate Bill 35 (referred to the Education Committee) and Maryland House Bill 262 (died through adjourned legislature) are both standard in-state tuition legislation that exempt undocumented in-state residents from paying out-of-state tuition. Additionally, Maryland House Bill 118 (died through adjourned legislature) would have made undocumented residents specifically eligible for Senatorial and Delegate Scholarships available in the state of Maryland. Legislation was introduced in Virginia to expand in-state tuition eligibility to those who have applied for permanent residency (VA SB 1640; died through adjourned legislature). Arizona Senate Bill 1217, introduced in February 2019, passed by the Senate, and awaiting consideration by the House, would amend a current measure that requires a form of identification to receive all public benefits including access to public education. The measure would create an affordable tuition rate for all qualifying Arizona state residents regardless of immigration status.
New York introduced its own state-based version of a DREAM Act (NY S 1250), which would expand New York’s in-state tuition benefits to substantive financial assistance through the New York DREAM fund commission. The bill passed both the Senate and the Assembly on January 23, 2019 and was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on April 12. The bill is expected to affect an estimated 146,000 students previously ineligible to receive financial aid under federal and state law.
A recent working paper by Dylan Conger of George Washington University, and Colin Chellman of the City University of New York, found through a case-study of restricted access data from a large public university system utilizing in-state tuition policies, that while supportive of associate degree completion rates, in-state tuition does not seem to be enough of a boost for undocumented students to earn a bachelor’s degree within four years. One key finding points to the inability for undocumented students to receive sufficient financial aid. States are starting to provide opportunities for this as well. The New York DREAM Act makes New York the tenth state, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, to enact legislation providing financial aid benefits to undocumented immigrants. While measures in Maryland were only able to progress 75% through the state legislature in 2019, Maryland also launched a community college promise program this year that extends to undocumented students. In kind, a March Inside Higher Ed article considered the merits of extending additional affordability options to undocumented students during the rise of state-based free college and college promise programs.
These options may prove crucial in improving completion outcomes for undocumented students, and is one reason why NASPA highly supports the Dream and Promise Act of 2019, or H.R. 6, that would repeal Section 505 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996 that pertains to repercussions for states that provide financial aid and in-state tuition accessibility for Dreamers. Increasing college affordability is also just one component to providing undocumented immigrants with the support measures necessary to succeed; another is providing for pathway to citizenship for 3.6 million qualifying Dreamers, which will be discussed in an upcoming blogpost. In an effort to increase advocacy opportunities and awareness, NASPA is joining the Education Week of Action for Dream and Promise Act of 2019 starting on April 29 as a part of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, so look out for updates on how you can join the movement!