Texas and In-State Tuition for Illegal Immigrants

After reading criticism of Texas Governor Rick Perry for signing a bill that provided in-state tuition for illegal immigrants attending state schools, I decided to read the legislation and learn how it works. Several recent articles and op-ed pieces pointed to Texas House Bill 1403, which passed in 2001. I read that bill, but after investigating further I learned the legislation that’s in effect today is Texas Senate Bill 1528, which amended HB 1403. SB 1528 passed the Senate unanimously in 2005, and passed the House by a voice vote (it’s odd how often potentially controversial legislation passes the Texas House that way). Governor Perry subsequently signed it. SB 1528 permits an illegal immigrant to pay in-state tuition if:

  1. He/she graduated from high school or received an equivalent to a high school diploma (e.g. a GED).
  2. He/she lived continuously in Texas for at least three years preceding high school graduation.
  3. He/she signs an affidavit stating that he/she will apply to become a permanent resident as soon as he/she is eligible to apply.

Note that there’s no provision in the law stating that the illegal immigrant must be eligible to become a permanent resident under existing U.S. law – the moment when he/she becomes eligible may never arrive. Also, the law requires that schools collect affidavits, but as this flyer from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) points out, there’s no mechanism to verify that students actually apply for permanent resident status, assuming they become eligible to do so. If you’re an illegal immigrant who graduated from high school, if you’ve lived in the state for the three years prior to graduation, and you’re willing to sign a largely meaningless affidavit, you’ll receive in-state tuition. The THECB flyer states that during the period of summer 2008 through the fiscal year 2009, 14,292 people qualified for in-state tuition this way (0.9% of all students). The state paid schools $17.1M to educate these kids, plus it paid an additional $6.5M in financial aid (yes, these students are eligible for financial aid). The students paid $9.5M out-of-pocket for tuition and fees, which is much lower than the $27.2M sticker price thanks to private and public financial aid.

The articles and op-ed pieces I’ve read that defend this law often list these reasons for their support:

  1. It’s only fair.
  2. Texas is required to offer a kindergarten through twelfth grade education for illegal immigrants (via a Supreme Court ruling), and this should carry forward to in-state tuition for college.
  3. We shouldn’t punish the children for the sins of their parents.
  4. It’s better to educate these students so they can obtain good-paying jobs, rather than become wards of the welfare state.

Governor Perry frequently cites reason #4 for his support of the law. Meanwhile critics complain that:

  1. We’re rewarding/subsidizing illegal behavior and lack of respect for U.S. immigration laws.
  2. Since there’s no path to citizenship for most of these students, the notion that they’ll land a good-paying job and start living the American Dream is false – they won’t be eligible to legally work in the U.S.

Since the state does nothing to verify that illegal immigrants who apply for in-state tuition have a path to citizenship and the state doesn’t follow up on the affidavits signed by those who do have such a path, I’m with the critics – the law is an attempt to pander to the state’s Hispanic population at election time.