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Virginia Inches Closer to Allowing In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students

Herndon, Arlington delegates work together to move bipartisan bill forward.

A bill that would allow certain undocumented students to receive in-state college tuition in Virginia cleared a key legislative hurdle Tuesday night and could see further consideration Wednesday morning.

"This has been a very good day for this issue," state Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington) told Patch late Tuesday. "I'm overjoyed that it's gotten this far. But the fact is that we've got a lot of work to do still. And I'm going to continue working with Republicans and Democrats to hopefully bring this home."

Lopez introduced legislation modeled after the federal DREAM Act. Lawmakers on Tuesday combined it with a similar bill put forth by Del. Tom Rust (R-86), a Herndon Republican and chairman of the House Higher Education Subcommittee, and recommended it to the full Education Committee on a bipartisan 6-0 vote.

The bill moves forward with Rust as its patron and Lopez as its chief co-patron.

Lopez said he worked with Rust on combining and editing the legislation "so it would pass muster with as many people as possible."

The legislation states a person who is in the United States illegally may be eligible for in-state tuition if he or she has been approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; has graduated from a public or private high school in Virginia or received General Education Development (GED) certificate; and has begun the process of becoming a citizen. Such students must also prove their residency and that they've filed Virginia income tax returns.

Similar bills have died in subcommittee in the past.

This year, though, the proposed legislation enjoyed the support of chambers of commerce in Fairfax, Reston and Herndon, along with George Mason University, Northern Virginia Community College, Virginia Tech and Norfolk State University.

The Virginia bill cleared its first hurdle on the same day President Barack Obama traveled to Las Vegas to call for comprehensive immigration reform, and at a time when bipartisan support for such reform is higher than it's been in years.

"There's large immigrant populations in everybody's districts — and that's growing," Lopez said. "These are people's neighbors. These are people's friends. Members are meeting them every day. They're meeting them in their community. They're going to their stores. It's more of a personal connection, and that's changing people's hearts and minds."

Lopez said the matter, in part, was an economic development issue.

Virginia invests in undocumented children through the 12th grade. Upon graduation, those students either secure tuition in other states — taking their talent with them, as many don't come back — or lose hope and become a burden on the social safety net, Lopez said.

"We need to be bringing talent to Virginia," he said. "And what is more embracing of that than investing in these kids that we've already worked with?"

Twelve other states have laws on the books similar to what's being considered in Virginia — including Texas, Utah and Colorado.

Still, the proposed law here is "very high bar," Lopez said.

"It's not going to (affect) tens of thousands. It's going to be a smaller number," he said. "But it provides hope. It provides an avenue, an opportunity that has not existed for these kinds of extraordinary students."

Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, has filed similar legislation in the state Senate.

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Richard Wahl January 31, 2013 at 08:08 AM
Sorry, I just cannot and will not, condone illegals to do this, or any other State activity. Illegal means just that.........ILLEGAL!! Against the law. Shucks, why not just them get drivers licences too! I mean, let's just make them ALL LEGAL, then there wouldn't be any illegals!! Oh, and by the way, there will be NO, money used to fund them, taken from those who actually LIVE, in this country. If you are a citizen, then you do NOT need to pay for any of their 'entitlements', for they must support themselves with their own money.......NO freebies!! At tax payers expense.
Ann V. Null January 31, 2013 at 12:33 PM
If a fully compliant, law-abiding, i-dotting, t-crossing, student from: any of the 49 other states, various territories, and foreign countries must pay out-of-state tuition, why are the Commonwealth tax-payers discounting tuition for this group of non-compliants?
William Campenni January 31, 2013 at 03:11 PM
Federal laws require that if you give in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens, you must also give them to all out-of-state students who are US citizens. That means the average out-of-state tuition must be reduced from $24,000 per year to $10,000 per year. With 29,000 out of state students in the Virginia system, that will be a tuition shortfall of about $400 MILLION which will have to be made up by more taxes or a large increase in the tuition for in-state students. This feel-good legislation will come at a high price. Hope you enjoy writing that much bigger check for your kids' college tuition. Si se puede!
Bob Bruhns January 31, 2013 at 03:16 PM
People, this is a diversion. Let's see - the federal government is broke, the state governments are broke - so now, all of a sudden, out of the blue, immigration reform is being addressed, after all these years? Really? The disgusting, long-standing policy of 'keep them illegal to keep them cheap, and keep them coming', will certainly be preserved. Our business leaders make too much money from that policy for it to stop, unless the PEOPLE rise up and demand it. (Which isn't happening. This is a media circus diversion, and nothing more.) Heck, the People didn't even notice the recent $26 Billion surprise from WMATA! Their education did not prepare them for this, and they will not learn, either. So, we can look forward to many more smokescreens, including yet another fake, phony immigration reform. Anything for a diversion!
Richard Wahl January 31, 2013 at 05:52 PM
I think it's pretty simple, the politically correct bunch wants it to happen, I mean, they don't want the illegals to be offended in any way, for why.........would you want to offend any poor illegal who can't get an education except at tax payer expense.
Nancy Husch February 01, 2013 at 02:06 PM
This battle has been fought before. Illegal is illegal, and will be costly in the end, if passed. Do you need votes this badly to be opening Pandoras Box? The border crossings have already increased in 2012 in antisipation of the passing of the immigration bill. Passing this bill and with what Congress wants to do as well, will only open the flood gates once again. I will not support this, and this will not be a surprise to those that know me. Immigrate the legal way to come to the US.

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