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Bill proposed would give undocumented Virginians in-state tuition

McCance says University permits students with Deferred Action status to enroll on case-by-case basis

Del. Tom Rust, R-Fairfax, proposed a bill last month which would declare children of immigrants who are in the country illegally eligible for in-state tuition under specifically delineated circumstances.

The Higher Education Equity Act, HB 747, would grant in-state tuition benefits to individuals with temporary resident status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, provided the individual went to high school in Virginia and has either graduated or obtained a GED.

In order to qualify, individuals also must have filed for a Virginia tax return, or in the case that he or she is a dependent, at least one guardian must have filed income tax returns for at least three years prior to the date of enrollment.

Deferred Action is a policy enacted in June 2012 which defers deportation of those brought to the United States as young children, given they do not present a risk to national or public security and meet certain age and educational criteria.

The University had no comment on the legislation, but does not enroll individuals who cannot provide proof of citizenship. Technically, persons receiving a Deferred Action classification are considered legally residing immigrants.

“An applicant’s status is not known during the application process,” University spokesperson McGregor McCance said. “However, if an offer of admission is made and accepted, the student must provide documentation of [his or her] status before enrolling.”

In a follow-up email, McCance said students with Deferred Action status were considered on a case-by-case basis.

University Dean of Admissions Gregory Roberts said in an email that the University does not assist students with Deferred Action status and the University’s admissions strategy would not change if this bill were to pass.

Related policy at other Virginia institutions is not uniform. Larry Hincker, associate vice president of university relations at Virginia Tech, said enrolling students living in the country illegally remains a possibility.

“The university technically doesn’t know,” Hincker said. “It’s highly possible that undocumented aliens [are] here. The university does not ask for proof of citizenship.”

The bill passed the House Education Committee with a vote of 19-3 and was recommended to the Committee on Appropriations Jan. 28 — the same day similar bill HB 88, sponsored by Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, was tabled by voice vote.

Though HB 747 received broad bipartisan support in the Education Committee, similar bills have died eight times in the past. Most never made it to the House subcommittee.

The two parties remain highly divided on this legislation. According to an editorial in The Washington Post, “Mr. Howell [Republican Speaker of the House] saw to it that the bill was sent to die in the Appropriations Committee” with concerns about long-term financial obligations.

The Appropriations Committee took no action on a bill similar to HB 747 in the last legislative session. Of the Appropriations Committee’s 22 members, 16 are the same as last year’s Committee.

Sen. Richard H. Black, R-Leesburg, strongly opposes the bill.

“We want to make it as easy as we can for actual citizens to be enrolled and use the state money,” Black’s legislative aide Chris Lore said. “And to make it easy for illegal immigrants to take advantage of the tax dollars that we’re all paying in is just not acceptable.”

Student Council will consider a resolution supporting HB 747 next week. The bill passed out of Council’s External Affairs Committee Tuesday with only one person voting against the measure.

Vice-President for Organizations Neil Branch, a fourth-year Batten student and sponsor of the resolution, said the resolution was likely to pass the whole Student Council.

“[Students living in the country illegally] shouldn’t be punished simply because of their parents’ actions,” Branch said. “Currently we have a lot of high-achieving students denied these educational opportunities.”

Branch said he has reached out to several offices of Virginia legislators but has not yet received any official response, which he said was likely because of the recent snowstorm.

According to The Washington Post, the bill would apply only to undocumented students who arrived in the United States before June 2007, and about 100 students will annually fulfill the bill’s criteria for the next 10 years.

“It doesn’t apply to everyone — it’s a pretty narrow bill,” said Sam Bosch, legislative aide for Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, and co-patron of a similar bill in the Senate. “It only affects the small population of students who would be approved for deferred action status, and even if they are approved for that status, they still have to meet other criteria.”

Joseph Liss, Sarah Pritchett and Meg Gardner contributed to this story with reporting.