Still DREAMing: Bill Would Allow Undocumented Students to Receive In-State Tuition

Effort by Arlington Democrat and Herndon Republican in 2013 saw momentum for the first time in years.

Children participate in a July 2013 rally for federal immigration reform in Herndon. Patch file photo by Rachel Hatzipanagos
Children participate in a July 2013 rally for federal immigration reform in Herndon. Patch file photo by Rachel Hatzipanagos

Legislation that would allow the children of undocumented immigrants to receive in-state college tuition in Virginia has once again been filed in Richmond.

The Tuition Equity Act, often referred to as the DREAM Act, has died in the Virginia House of Delegates eight times in as many years.

For the first seven, the bill never made it out of a House subcommittee. But in 2013, combined legislation by state Dels. Alfonso Lopez and Tom Rust cleared several hurdles, winning bipartisan support in the House Education Committee with a 17-4 vote. Still, House leadership shuffled the bill off to yet another committee, essentially killing it with a procedural deadline and without an up-or-down vote on the House floor.

At the time, Rust, a Herndon Republican, told Patch that he was "encouraged" by how far the bill had gotten and that he would introduce similar legislation again in 2014.

2013 was an election year for state delegates, meaning moderate or otherwise sympathetic Republicans might have preferred not to deal with the matter and risk facing a primary challenger from the right.

Lopez, an Arlington Democrat whose district also includes part of Fairfax County, said he is "cautiously optimistic" the bill will pass this year. Democratic Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe said on the campaign trail that he looked forward to signing the act into law.

Part of the reason Lopez and Rust made as much headway as they did last year was because the DREAM Act enjoyed the support of a coalition of numerous chambers of commerce, plus several colleges and universities and faith-based organizations.

"The coalition we have has only grown," Lopez told Patch this week. "Numerous states, both states you consider blue and states you consider deep red, have passed this kind of legislation. So I really hope we can get this bill passed this year in Virginia. Because every year we wait, it's more and more students that we're hurting… Students who could be giving back in so many ways in Virginia."

Under the bill, children of undocumented immigrants would have to satisfy a number of requirements in order to be eligible for in-state college tuition in Virginia — not the least of which is being granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

They also would have to attend a public or private high school in Virginia for at least three years and provide evidence that they — or at least one parent or guardian — had filed Virginia income tax returns for at least three years before enrollment.

In December, Lopez launched an online petition for Virginia DREAM Act supporters to sign.

“This is the right thing to do, not just from a moral perspective, but also from an economic development perspective” he said in a statement at the time. “We invest in these students from kindergarten through twelfth grade, but put up a barrier after graduation that only serves to drive away top talent from Virginia.”

Last month, the Legal Aid Justice Center in Falls Church filed suit on the behalf of seven immigrant students — all of whom had been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status — who were told by the State Council of Higher Education that they were ineligible for in-state tuition.

It's unclear whether that suit will affect how DREAM Act legislation fares in Richmond this year.

More on Bills Headed to the 2014 Virginia General Assembly:


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