Houston is the only place Samuel Cervantes considers home. His parents brought him to the United States from Monterrey, Mexico, at the age of five.
As an undocumented immigrant, Cervantes, a rising junior at the University of Texas at Austin, said he never thought college was in his future until he learned of the in-state tuition benefit afforded students like himself.
“It quelled a lot of fears that I had because for a good percentage of my time in high school, I felt that I wasn't going to be able to go to college because I wasn't documented, and I didn't think I was going to be able to afford it,” Cervantes said.
Before a slate of new laws takes effect Sept. 1, we're taking a look at a few measures that didn't pass the finish line during 2017's regular legislative session — and how those "dead bills" affect individual Texans. Read the first story in this series.
House Bill 393 would've spelled the end of in-state tuition for undocumented students in Texas. The bill was one of a handful filed by Republicans that sought to finally end the controversial benefit. But vows at the start of the 85th regular legislative session to get it done fell way short; the issue was never even heard in committee.
The 2001 state law allows noncitizens, including some undocumented immigrants, to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges if they can prove they’ve been Texas residents for at least three years and graduated from a Texas high school or received a GED. They must also sign an affidavit promising to pursue a path to permanent legal status if one becomes available.
Every session, a handful of Republican lawmakers attempt to rescind the long-standing offer. This year, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland filed House Bill 393, which would have eliminated the program by spelling out in statute that a person “not authorized” to be in the country can’t be considered a Texas resident. The Bedford Republican told The Texas Tribune in January that he considers the benefit a lure for undocumented immigrants and that his constituents “want the magnets turned off.”
Asked why the legislation never even got so much as a committee hearing, Stickland blamed House leadership, including Speaker Joe Straus.
“Undocumented students will go on to have the ability to contribute to the Texas economy by utilizing their college degrees, and I think that having a more educated population benefits the Texas society as a whole.”— Samuel Cervantes, University of Texas at Austin student
One big immigration measure did pass and become law: Senate Bill 4 is the controversial anti-“sanctuary cities” bill, which includes a provision allowing law enforcement to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest. The law is tied up in the courts, but just the prospect of it leaves undocumented students like Cervantes fearful.
In the meantime, the proud Longhorn says he’ll try to focus on his studies. He said he'll fight the next round of bills he expects lawmakers to file in subsequent sessions so his younger sister can also take advantage of in-state tuition.
“Undocumented students will go on to have the ability to contribute to the Texas economy by utilizing their college degrees, and I think that having a more educated population benefits the Texas society as a whole,” Cervantes said.
Live chat: Talk to our reporters about bills that didn't make it out of the regular session — and what's ahead in the special — Friday, July 14 at noon. Ask a question.
Read related Tribune coverage:
Will Texas legislators repeal in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants? One Republican lawmaker is determined to make it happen. [Full story]