Senate approves in-state tuition for children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants

The Senate approved 20-9 Monday legislation that will allow the children of illegal immigrants who were born in the United States and now reside in Tennessee to get in-state tuition rates at the state’s public colleges and universities.

But a bill to allow in-state tuition to students who are themselves illegal immigrants, provided they have resided in the state for five years and have grades qualifying themfor lottery scholarships, was taken “off notice” in a committee, signaling that efforts toward passage have ended.

The bill winning Senate approval (SB2115) led to a sharp exchange in floor debate Monday between the sponsor, Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga and Republican Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville.

Gardenhire described the measure as providing a long-overdue equal opportunity for higher education to youths who are United States citizens through birth. Students from all other states, once they have lived in Tennessee for a year, now get the lower in-state rate and only those born to illegal immigrants are unfairly excluded, he said.

Campfield asked whether Gardenhire thought passage of the measure would be “a magnet for illegal immigrants to come to Tennessee for their children to get the benefits without going through the process to get them legally.”

“No, sir, I don’t… our state will not be a magnet,” replied Gardenhire, adding other states had enacted similar legislation without such an impact.
Campfield then compared the bill’s provisions to a parents robbing a bank and then giving the stolen money to their children.

“Should children be benefiting from parents’ illegal acts?” asked Campfield.

“I don’t think that question deserves an answer,” replied Gardenhire.

The bill has cleared committees in the House and awaits a floor vote, scheduled in two weeks.

The bill allowing illegal immigrants themselves to get in-state tuition under some circumstances is also sponsored by Gardenhire, who did not seek a vote on it as scheduled in the Senate Education Committee Monday.

The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition lamented the death in a news release quoting Cesar Bautista, described as a coordinator the “campaign for tuition equality.”

“It is unfortunate that the legislature has missed an opportunity to strengthen our state’s economy, generate revenue for our universities and give every student the opportunity to pay their fair share for college,” he said. “Immigrant youth have advocated for this bill for two years… Our dreams are what’s at stake, and we will never give up.”