Va. Senate committee votes down in-state tuition bills for DACA recipients, undocumented immigrants

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On Thursday, the Republican-led Senate Committee on Education and Health squashed two bills that would have extended in-state tuition to certain illegal immigrants in Virginia.

The senators voted down party lines 7-8, killing the legislation before it could be considered by the full chamber.

SB 237 called for in-state tuition privileges for Virginia students who already hold DACA status.

DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The program, which was started under the Obama administration, gives deportation protection and work status to qualified young people who were brought to the United States as children.

The Trump administration announced the end of DACA in September, with recipients beginning to lose their status in early March.

Since then, the president has said he’s willing to make a deal on the program, though nothing has been made yet.

The second bill lawmakers considered, SB 810, would have granted in-state tuition to certain immigrants who have applied for permanent residency.

Before the senators voted, a long line of people approached the podium to voice their support for the bills.

Luis Aguilar was one of them.

He came to the United States undocumented from Mexico when he was about nine.

“Making ends meet was incredibly difficult,” he said.

He graduated from high school in Northern Virginia, but his education pretty much ended there.

“I took a class in Northern Virginia Community College and I remember having to pay $900 for one class,” he said.

Since he’s undocumented, Aguilar said he was paying three times more than his former classmates since he didn’t qualify for in-state tuition.

He worked two jobs to afford that one college class.

“The teacher asked me, ‘Do you think it’s fair? Do you think it’s worth it?’ he recalled. “And I very honestly remember saying, ‘It’s not worth it. It’s just not worth it.'”

Aguilar said, without protections like the ones laid out in the bills, students like him will incur debt, drop out or take up professions with little growth.

“It’s actually something that will be harmful for the Virginia economy because you are producing a population that will not be living up to its potential,” he said.

Though no one signed up to speak out against the bills at Thursday’s meeting, there have been ongoing concerns.

For example, some opponents fear opening in-state tuition to more people in Virginia will create even more competition for coveted college acceptance slots.

Others want to wait and see what happens in our nation’s capital where discussions are ongoing.

“We have got to fix this problem at a federal level. I think we probably all agree on that. And I hope that we do,” said committee chair Sen. Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg) who voted against the bills.

The bills’ patron, Sen. David Mardsen (D-Burke), said there needs to be a fix now.

“As we’ve seen, these kinds of federal issues tend to go on and on and on and we’re dropping people out of our education system and our economic system,” said Marsden. “Time’s a-wastin’. We have got to get these folks involved because we’ll pay the price for it later.”

Aguilar isn’t giving up hope.

“That’s one of the things about being an immigrant. The fact that you came from another country, the last thing that you lose is hope,” he said. “So we have that hope, but we’re also very realistic so we’ll continue pushing legislators.”

A similar bill was introduced in the House. That one will be heard in the Rules Committee.

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