With a new Texas legislative session underway and incoming state leaders indicating a desire to repeal the Texas Dream Act, supporters of the law are gearing up for a renewed fight to keep it in place.
A group of about 60 students, businessmen and legislators gathered on the south steps of the Texas Capitol on Wednesday to voice their support for the act, which allows undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition after graduating from high school if they have lived in Texas for three years and have signed an affidavit promising to seek legal residency.
State Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, a former undocumented immigrant who benefited from the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, was one of several speakers with a personal connection to the issue.
“I know that measures like [the Texas Dream Act] and the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 can change a young adult’s life path, as it did mine,” she said.
Critics say the Dream Act is unfair to legal U.S. residents who have to pay higher out-of-state tuition. Past repeal efforts have failed, but there could be more momentum for the 2001 law with a more conservative Legislature in place in 2015.
State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, has introduced legislation to repeal the Texas Dream Act. Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick said he wants to end the act, and Gov.-elect Greg Abbott has indicated he wouldn’t veto any repeal efforts. Patrick and others have characterized the Dream Act as a reward and incentive for illegal immigration.
At Wednesday's rally, Bill Hammond, the CEO of the Texas Association of Businesses — which endorsed Patrick for lieutenant governor but has opposed him on this issue — spoke about the economic and social impact of the law.
"They work hard, they go to school, they graduate, they do what we want them to do," Hammond said. "They will be the future teachers, doctors, architects, engineers in Texas if we allow this program to continue."
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board estimates that the act benefited more than 20,000 students in 2013.
State Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, said a repeal would reverse major gains the state has made under the law.
“You’re talking about millions of kids that we’ve already educated,” Walle said. “We’ve already invested in them. It’s not like they’re getting free education. You’re just allowing them to pay in-state tuition, and tuition for all of us is already expensive.”
“It’s obviously a tough fight, but I think Republicans would do themselves a grave disservice to go down this route,” he said. “Full repeal of this law would be a travesty.”
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