Texas A&M University’s student Senate recently approved a bill that would no longer allow illegal immigrants attending the school to be eligible for in-state tuition rates.
Since 2001, illegal immigrants in Texas have qualified for in-state tuition, which offers them a generous discount compared to out-of-state students attending the university. Texas A&M has 49,000 students, and about 300 are illegal immigrants.
But while the student Senate voted 48-21 this month in favor of the bill, S.B. 63-11, the move isn’t sitting well with Student Body President Jacob Robinson.
Robinson, who vetoed the bill, says that it’s up to the state legislature – not the school – to address the problem of illegal immigration.
“This is a state of residency issue and the state needs to address this first,” said Robinson.
The student senators voted because state legislators "mentioned the desire to receive feedback from students at Texas institutions -- specifically Texas A&M," said Clark Caperton, student Senate chair of external affairs.
That “desire” hit a nerve when the bill was introduced this month.
Demonstrators took to campus streets and held up signs that said, “Aggies don’t fight Aggies,” and “We don’t choose to be illegal." Many of the demonstrators support proposed federal legislation called the Dream Act -- which would allow immigrant children to remain in the United States to serve in the military or attend college.
Justin Pulliam, student Senator and chairman of Texas Aggie Conservatives, the co-author of the S.B. 63-11 bill, predicts that Dream Act Activists will turn out Wednesday when the bill is brought back onto the floor. Students will have an option to override Robinson’s veto.
“Dream Act Activists are very effective and good at being heard,” Pulliam said. But he says there are others not so vocal -- students and faculty alike -- who support the bill.
The student Senate has the backing of state Representative Leo Berman, who has plans to introduce legislation on this matter in the spring.
“I’m very disappointed that one person would have the authority to say no to a bill that was passed by the entire student government,” said Berman, adding that Robinson's veto was “ridiculous.”
Texas A&M is not the only campus in Texas experiencing turmoil recently, as other campuses in the state have had similar splits in the student body. University of Texas San Antonio students took part in a hunger strike in order to enlist Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's support for the Dream Act. Undocumented students at the University of Texas Austin put themselves at risk for deportation while participating in a "coming out rally" on campus last Tuesday.
In 2001, Texas became the first of ten states to offer in-state tuition to illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria, which includes graduating from a local high school and pledging to legalize their immigration status as soon as possible. Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin all have a variation of the law.
On Monday, California’s Supreme Court upheld its state law, after out-of-state students and their families challenged it, arguing they shouldn’t have to pay higher tuition while undocumented immigrants get to pay the lower state rate.
Georgia and South Carolina -- which have a selective admissions process -- are the only two states that ban illegal immigrants from attending any college there.
The Texas A&M bill has received 330 Facebook “likes.” But the petition site Change.org called the bill “discriminatory” and filed an online petition against it, saying it will result in the “loss of opportunity and advancement and higher costs for Texans in the long term.”
Caperton says the bill was to test the water of public opinion.
“S.B. 63-11 is merely designed to represent the collective, although not universal, opinion of the students at Texas A&M,” said Caperton.
Caperton or Robinson wouldn’t speculate if the veto would be overturned Wednesday, but both said that it would be a close vote.